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"My mother had a birthday coming up, and she loves English cookies. So we boxed up a selection, all under the irreproachable Duchy Originals hallmark of Prince Charles's Prince's Trust, and set out to mail them to Massachusetts.

The woman at the Post Office wanted to know if they were home-made cookies. If they were home-made, we could have just sent them. But since they were bought, we would have to go through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's part of the war on terrorism, you see. She referred us to a Web site:

"FDA industry systems," the site proclaims. Created "in response to the Bioterrorism Act of 2002."

Can this daunting rubric accommodate Cookies for Mom? I have my doubts. But I'm relieved to find a four-page section, "Sending Food Gifts Through International Mail."

It quotes the rulebook: You can send foreign food gifts if you warn the Food and Drug Administration in advance and get a Prior Notice Number to put on the package.

"Who is authorized to submit prior notice?" it asks, rhetorically. "A prior notice for an article of food may be submitted by any person with knowledge of the required information. This person is the submitter."

Resigned to going through the same rigmarole as someone shipping a freighterload of Duchy Originals, I pull up the five-page "Prior Notice of Imported Foods."

I get my account number and password, and start applying online for a Prior Notice Number. As I turn in my submitter information, I'm stopped. The system doesn't like something.

Rejected, I send an e-mail to Help, and two days later a woman apologizes for the problem and asks for my account ID and password so it can be researched. I send those, and I hear back that it's going to their "test environment." Please allow two to three business days.

Meanwhile I decide to try again on the submitter information. Now I can't even get to where I was before! Can the Food and Drug Administration have learned what I'm thinking of it?

The Help woman says: "No one else has reported this problem. Try restarting your computer."

I do that, and again I'm turned away."
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