Jul 24, 2019
Movement on senate effort to increase the border’s ag inspectors

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 24 unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors at the nation’s ports of entry.

Agricultural inspectors are tasked with stopping harmful plants, food, animals and goods from entering the United States. Officially called the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, it would authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire additional inspectors.

The Michigan Farm Bureau is among several ag industry groups in support of the bill, which now goes to the full Senate.

“Invasive species like spotted wing drosophila and the brown marmorated stink bug are just two examples of non-native pests that have created havoc for Michigan farmers over the last few years,” John Kran, National Legislative Counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said in a press release. “This bill will expand and enhance border inspections and provide farmers with another level of protection from foreign pests that negatively impact both farmers and the consumers they feed.”

CBP estimates there is a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country.

“Agricultural inspectors are responsible for ensuring these goods move efficiently across our borders while safeguarding against harmful pests, diseases and even potential bioterrorism attacks,” bill author Senator Gary Peters said in a press release. “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 bill was introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI),  Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Senator Peters serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senators Roberts and Stabenow are Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, respectively.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ ports of entry each year,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would help alleviate the shortage of agricultural inspectors tasked with ensuring the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border.”

Agricultural Specialists and canine units conduct inspections of foreign passengers, commercial vessels, trucks, aircraft and railcars at U.S. ports of entry – on a typical day, more than 1 million passengers, and 78,000 containers, according to the press release.

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.

The legislation has received support from 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, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Airports Council International – North America, and City of Pharr – International Bridge.

Above, Raspberries are dumped into a screened container and shaken to remove insects for inspection by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, June 23, 2016. Photo: CBP/Glenn Fawcett



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