The National Pork Producers Council led a coalition of more than 150 agriculture, trade and related groups in urging lawmakers to fund border inspection of ag products.
The organizations sent a letter to Congress on June 29 warning of a funding shortfall that could weaken agricultural inspections at U.S. ports of entry. The letter urges lawmakers to appropriate funds to address what could be a $630 million COVID-19-related shortfall through fiscal year 2021.
The funding shortfall comes as user fees have fallen as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a downturn in international travel and lowered cargo imports. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service collects the Agriculture Quarantine Inspection user fees that pay for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspections. Due to the recent economic downturn and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, there has been a significant reduction in the collection of these user fees and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service user fee reserve fund is expected to be depleted by the end of Fiscal Year 2020.
"We urge Congress to ensure that the essential work of CBP agriculture inspectors continues uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter reads. "We depend on AQI to ensure that America’s agriculture sector remains safe from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to U.S. agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections."
Agricultural Quarantine Inspection plays a critical role in protecting U.S. agriculture from plant and animal pests and diseases, the groups said.
"CBP and USDA agriculture inspectors are our first line of defense to ensure African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases remain outside the United States," said NPPC President Howard "AV" Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wis. "Lapsed vigilance of these inspections would have devastating consequences for U.S. pork producers and all of agriculture, the backbone of the American economy. It is vital that Congress address this significant funding shortfall, allowing U.S. pork producers to maintain a healthy U.S. swine herd."