Saturday, January 22, 2011

U.S. Customs Confiscates Bird's Egg

I'm surprised that not one newspaper thought of that headline. I'm referring, of course, to the recent confrontation between the U.S. Customs service and Canadian Lind Bird, after a random search of her car, as she attempted to cross the border into the United States, uncovered dangerous contraband.

Was it weapons? No.

A bio hazard? No.

Terrorist propaganda? No.

The Yusuf Islam record collection? No.

It was (insert strident orchestral chords here) a Kinder Surprise Egg.

For those who don't know (and who haven't yet clicked on the above link), Kinder Surprise Eggs are chocolate eggs which contain a two-piece plastic container that opens to reveal a tiny toy. A television ad produced by the treat's Italian manufacturer, Ferrero, sums it up nicely. Kinder Surprise Eggs combine three of a child's favorite things; candy (chocolate), a surprise and a toy. Some of the toys are quite imaginative and many require assembly. I've often been fascinated by some of the engaging novelty items that Ferrero has managed to cram into their diminutive treats. In fact, they've become collectors' items in their own right.

What fascinates me most about the chocolate eggs is that their outer shell is regular, brown milk chocolate, but the inside of the candy shell, once you crack it open, is white chocolate. How do they do that? It's the grandest mystery since Cadbury's Caramilk bar!

Unfortunately, the U.S. Customs service does not share my admiration of Ferrero's creativity. They seized the candy as illegal contraband, and advised its would-be "smuggler" that she could have been fined up to $300 for trying to take it across the border. Apparently, Kinder Surprise Eggs have been banned in the U.S. because they've been deemed to present a choking hazard to small children.

Now, let me begin by acknowledging my agreement that the tiny toys that come out of these chocolate eggs can, indeed, pose a choking hazard to small children. So can lots of other things. Gum balls, pens, coins, flash memory sticks, paper clips, bottle caps, key fobs, laser pointers, nail clippers... I could go on, but you get the idea. Is U.S. Customs going to start fining people hundreds of dollars for taking any of the above across the border?

Okay, so let's grant that Kinder Surprise Eggs are specifically targeted toward children whereas most of those other items are not and, as such, they may have a higher probability of winding up in the hands (or mouth) of an unsuspecting youngster. But nobody said that Bird had any plans to give the offending treat to a minor. Maybe she was planning to eat it herself. Some grown-ups like them too you know. (I know I do!) In any case, she was clearly unaware that the seemingly harmless eggs were banned in the States and therefore had no knowledge or intent of any wrong-doing. Given that, a $300 fine seems just a bit of an overreaction.

Seems the U.S. Customs service is pretty serious about keeping these malevolent threats out of the U.S. of A. though. This isn't the first time they've stopped one at the border. Officials boast that they've seized over 25,000 of the treats in over 2,000 separate seizures. Well anyway, now we know what they're so busy doing while boxcutter-wielding maniacs stroll unimpeded across their borders.

In a fine display of bureaucratic flare, the United States government has since sent Bird a seven-page letter formally asking her permission to destroy the seized Kinder Surprise Egg. Now, I admit that I have a predilection toward verbosity, but even I would be hard-pressed to fill seven pages asking for permission to destroy a chocolate egg. Maybe they listed all of the possible means of destruction that they would not use; you know, just to reassure the egg's former owner that its final destruction would be humane, painless and quick.

I wonder what the black market price for Kinder Surprise Eggs is in the U.S.? It probably dwarfs even that of other Canadian confections that you can't get south of the border, such as Crispy Crunch, Coffee Crisp and Smarties (which, incidentally, might also present a choking hazard).

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