Santa cleared for entry to US

Santa Claus was officially cleared for entry into the United States as federal agriculture officials waived stringent livestock checks on his nine reindeer.

The US Department of Agriculture announced in a light-hearted statement that a "Mr. S.Claus" of the North Pole was free to enter the United States with his reindeer from December 24 to December 25.

"During this season of giving, USDA wants to do everything in its power to help Santa," said John R. Clifford, USDA's Chief Veterinary Officer.

"We agreed to waive the normal application fees and entry inspection/overtime costs, provided he winks his eye and wishes port personnel a Merry Christmas at the time of crossing."

Authorities also waived the normal health checks for Santa's reindeer -- provided they met certain alternative conditions.

"As a condition of entry, the reindeer must be certified by Santa Claus as never having been fed anything other than hay, sugar plums and gingerbread," the statement said.

"The reindeer must also be individually identified with microchips or official eartag identification, and must respond to the names ?Dasher?, ?Dancer?, ?Prancer?, ?Vixen?, ?Comet?, ?Cupid?, ?Donner,? ?Blitzen? and ?Rudolph? when interacting with port personnel.

"No more than one reindeer in the group may be visibly affected by ?Rednose Syndrome?, and upon entry, port personnel will visually inspect the reindeer to ensure they are healthy and fit for continued travel."

The reindeer would also be required to be "pulling a wooden sleigh that has jingling bells attached and is filled with brightly-wrapped gifts."

"Port personnel will clean and disinfect the runners and underside of the sleigh at the time of entry," the statement said.

The USDA's festive statement was in keeping with agencies who acknowledge the existence of Santa Claus, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which polices the skies above Canada and the United States, regularly tracks the progress of Santa Claus and his reindeer in realtime on its NORAD Santa Tracker (www.noradsanta.org).