The Danger In Altering Phytosanitary Certificates
It has come to the attention of the customs brokerage community that there has been an increased occurrence of alterations being made to Phytosanitary Certificates by persons unknown. Specifically, these alterations are in the form of invalid "Shipper's Original' stamps being affixed to the certificates. As outlined below, modifying documents in this manner is a very serious offense with staggering repercussions.
What Is A Phytosanitary Certificate?
A Phytosanitary Certificate is a legal document issued by the National Plant Protection Organization of the exporting country. It certifies that the indicated commodity is free of pests and meets the regulations of the importing country. The Phytosanitary Certificates that are currently being altered are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for product entering Canada.
What Does "Shipper's Original" Mean?
This is a statement that appears on the bottom of the Phytosanitary Certificate in the form of a pre-printed stamp. There are several variations of the certificate depending on whether it has been pre-printed and filled out by hand or computer generated. Regardless, the words "Shipper's Original" will appear in either red or black ink on the bottom right-hand corner and may show "Part 1 - Shipper's Original" versus simply stating "Shipper's Original".
Acts That Constitute Alterations
Altering a document includes, but is not limited to:
- Changing information on the document
- Attaching a PARS sticker to the document
- Writing over top of the printing to clarify quantities or other information
- Cutting out portions of one Phytosanitary and attaching them to another
Suspected Cause For Modified Documents
Due to the unfortunate placement of the "Shipper's Original" statement, it is relatively easy for the stamp to get cut off on a scan or a fax. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will reject the certificate if the "Shipper's Original" is not visible on the documentation that they receive by fax. We believe that this has led to the unauthorized cutting and pasting of this statement from one Phytosanitary Certificate to another.
While it may be viewed as a way to expedite the import process, intentionally modifying a Phytosanitary Certificate in any way is forgery of a legal document. Original copies of each Phytosanitary Certificate are forwarded to the regional CFIA office by which the goods were released. CFIA and USDA can, and do, conduct internal and external audits of the Phytosanitary process and match original copies to the copies faxed to CFIA at the time of importation. In instances where forgery has been discovered, harsh penalties will be assessed against importers, exporters and/or carriers, depending on who is conducting the investigation.
Repercussions For Modifying Phytosanitary Certificates
It cannot be stressed enough that alterations of any kind to legal documents are forbidden and the repercussions for committing these forgeries are severe. The fine print on the Phytosanitary certificate issues the following warning:
Warning: Any alteration, forgery, or unauthorized use of this phytosanitary certificate is subject to civil penalties of up to $250,000 (7 U.S.C. Section 7734(b)) or punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both (18 U.S.C Section 1001).
In summary, Phytosanitary Certificates are legal documents that are issued by government agencies and it is a criminal offense punishable by law to alter these documents in any way.
For more information on export certification please visit CFIA's website: Phytosanitary Certificates