This week U.S. Cindy Axne (IA-D) joined Reps. Filemon Vela (TX-34) and Collin Peterson (MN-7), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, in introducing the Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act, legislation that would authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire more agriculture specialists in order to prevent an outbreak of African swine fever in the United States. While harmless to humans, ASF is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease with no vaccine that affects hogs and would be devastating to Iowa and the nation’s pork industry.
“Iowa leads the nation in pork production, raising nearly one-third of U.S. hogs. An outbreak here at home would be devastating to Iowa’s pork industry, which is an economic driver and job creator across the state,” says Congresswoman Axne. “Our producers have taken steps to minimize risk wherever possible, but we need to ensure CBP has the resources they need to effectively prevent the introduction of this infectious disease in the U.S.”
The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the country. According to the USDA, the United States imported $127.56 billion worth of agricultural products in Fiscal Year 2018. CBP agriculture specialists work to prevent introduction of harmful pests and animal diseases into the United States. They intercept tens of thousands of harmful products each year but there are staff shortages. This legislation would allow the CBP to hire 240 agriculture specialists per year until the shortages are filled so harmful diseases, such as ASF, will not slip through the cracks.
Recent reports highlight that as many as half of China’s breeding pigs have died or have been slaughtered due to ASF. Ongoing outbreaks of ASF have also been reported in Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and South Africa. Last week, South Korea also confirmed they had their first outbreak of ASF. Veterinary experts believe this may be the most serious animal health disease the world has seen.
“The Iowa Pork Producers Association strongly supports funding for additional agriculture inspectors to screen for foreign animal diseases at our ports of entries,” says Dennis Liljedahl, an Iowa pork producer, and member of the Iowa Pork Producers Association board of directors. “The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has indicated that an additional 600 agriculture inspectors are needed, and we see this as a vital action to help protect U.S. pork producers from the continuous spread of African swine fever, as well as other foreign animal diseases that threaten animal health in the U.S. We are grateful for the efforts of Rep. Axne for bringing this legislation forward.”
In July, Rep. Axne and Rep. James Baird (R-IN-04) urged CBP to prioritize agricultural inspections to prevent an outbreak of ASF among domestic swine herds. In a bipartisan letter sent to Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, the representatives called attention to the rapid spread of ASF in Europe and Asia and highlighted the threat the disease poses to American hogs and the pork industry.