In 2019 BoingBoing ran a story about border agents seizing bologna on the Texas border. Well, it's now 2022, and illegal bologna smuggling is still happening. The latest issue of Texas Monthly has a great article about the phenomenon. Reporter Madeleine Aggeler explores why the product is so popular, and takes the reader on a tour of a Customs and Border Patrol facility in El Paso, TX where confiscated items of all kinds—narcotics, currency, firearms, and agriculture including the prohibited bologna—are stored. Aggeler explains that the "quantities of intercepted bologna are so large that it's hard to believe that there are any pigs left in the world," and that while it's risky to smuggle it, the rewards are mighty:
The enterprising meat merchants smuggling these massive, plastic-wrapped sausages—known colloquially as "chubs"—face fines of $1,000 or more if caught. The Department of Agriculture prohibits travelers from bringing most pork products into the U.S. because they can carry maladies such as foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever. But the fines are chump change when weighed against the potential profits. In Mexico, a nine-pound roll of Chimex, the most popular brand of smuggled chubs, costs $10 to $15. In the U.S., the same roll can be sold for anywhere from $80 to $120—a huge markup for a basic lunch meat that Weird Al once wrote a spoof song about.
The main product being smuggled is made by the company Chimex, and according to Aggeler's research, is available to buy via Facebook Marketplace across the United States, including in Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. Aggeler also explores why so many people in the United States want to buy the prohibited product:
"As long as there has been a border, there have been people bringing contraband both ways," said Steven Alvarez, associate professor of English at St. John's University and the writer behind the website Taco Literacy. Alvarez recalled his family's frying up bologna with scrambled eggs and putting it in tacos and buying white-bread bologna sandwiches from the Mexican convenience store Oxxo. He suspects much of the demand for Mexican bologna is driven by nostalgia. "There's a fondness. Everybody at some point has a great bologna sandwich."
Why does the U.S. care so much about bologna? Aggeler explains:
Bologna is an easy punch line, but there are serious potential costs associated with a breakthrough disease in livestock. According to a 2008 government report, the U.S. lost almost $11 billion in beef exports between 2004 and 2007, after mad cow disease was detected in Washington State; the swine flu outbreak in 2009 sent the global economy into a panic. And now, agricultural officials are on high alert after pork samples in the Dominican Republic and Haiti tested positive for African swine fever in 2021. "There's a lot of connection between Haiti and ports in Florida and Puerto Rico," Vasquez said. "It's a very significant disease."
To read more, go check out Texas Monthly, and learn more about bologna than you might have thought possible!