Last week U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors at the border. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 would ensure the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across U.S. borders by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire additional inspectors to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.
“Every day, millions of pounds of produce, meat and other agricultural goods enter the United States through our nation’s ports of entry,” says Peters. “Agricultural inspectors are responsible for ensuring these goods move efficiently across our borders while safeguarding against harmful pests, diseases and even potential bioterrorism attacks. This bill will help ensure we have enough inspectors to secure America’s domestic food supply and agricultural industries and protect the health and safety of people in Michigan and across the country.”
The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 authorizes the annual hiring of 240 agricultural specialists a year until the workforce shortage is filled, and 200 agricultural technicians a year to carry out administrative and support functions. The bill also authorizes the training and assignment of 20 new canine teams a year, which have proven valuable in detecting illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that may have otherwise been missed in initial inspections. Finally, the bill authorizes supplemental appropriations each year to pay for the activities of the agriculture specialists, technicians and canine teams.
“Devastating diseases and pests are just one plane or boat ride away from causing havoc for American agriculture. Thus, diligence by the Customs and Border Patrol Agriculture Specialists is vital to a safe and affordable food supply,” says Roberts. “This bipartisan legislation helps to ensure that our borders are properly staffed and resourced to protect U.S. agriculture, the backbone of our national economy.”
The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the U.S. The program’s agricultural specialists and canine units conduct inspections of foreign passengers, commercial vessels, trucks, aircraft and railcars at U.S. ports of entry to protect health and safety by preventing the entry of harmful goods and invasive species that may pose a threat to American food and agriculture. On a typical day, those inspectors process more than 1 million passengers and 78,000 truck, rail and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately $7.2 billion. In March, agricultural inspectors and their canine teams seized illegal pork products smuggled from China. According to CBP estimates, there is a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country.
The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Treasury Employees Union, Border Trade Alliance, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Pork Producers, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association and the Michigan Pork Producers.
“Preventing the spread of African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases to the United States is our top priority,” says David Herring, NPPC president. “We appreciate all that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing to strengthen biosecurity at our borders. To further safeguard American agriculture, we need additional agriculture inspectors at our sea and airports. This essential legislation will help address the current inspection shortfall, reduce the risk of ASF and other foreign animal diseases, and protect the food supply for U.S. consumers.”
“With the outbreak of African swine fever in China and many other countries around the world, U.S. border safeguards are more important than ever to protect America’s food supply,” says Mary Kelpinksi, CEO of the Michigan Pork Producers Association. “Border security professionals must have the resources necessary to carry out this critical mission and protect our nation from contaminated or fraudulent imports. This commonsense legislation will help ensure our farmers can continue to produce the highest quality products — without fear that foreign imports will compromise the quality of U.S. goods.”