Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industries at the border. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 would ensure the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across our nation’s borders by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire additional inspectors, support staff and canine teams to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.
“Agriculture is a critical economic driver in Michigan and across the country, but longstanding shortages of agricultural inspectors limits Customs and Border Protection’s ability to prevent pests, diseases and other dangers from entering our country and puts production at risk,” says Senator Peters. “Every day, millions of passengers and tens of thousands of shipping containers carrying food products cross our nation’s borders, any one of which could do significant damage to America’s food supply and agricultural industries. I’m pleased the Senate unanimously approved my bipartisan bill to fill this unacceptable security gap, and I look forward to its swift consideration in the House of Representatives.”
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. According to CBP estimates, there is a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country.
“By strengthening the agricultural inspector workforce at the border, American agriculture and our entire food system will be safer,” says Senator Roberts. “Today’s passage by unanimous consent is a testament to this bill’s importance. I’m pleased we are one step closer to getting this legislation to the President’s desk, and I urge the House of Representatives to take up and pass this legislation swiftly.”
The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 authorizes the annual hiring of 240 agricultural specialists 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.
“We need more agricultural inspectors at our borders to protect farmers and consumers from threats to our food supply,” says Senator Stabenow. ”I’m pleased the Senate has acted to address the shortage of inspectors in order to safeguard our agricultural economy.”
“Hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ ports of entry annually,” says Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would boost the number of inspectors safeguarding the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border, which would benefit all Americans.”
“Preventing the spread of African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases to the United States is our top priority,” says David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council. “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.”