Peters’ Bipartisan Bill to Protect America’s Domestic Food Supply and Agricultural Industry to be Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), John Cornyn (R-TX), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) applauded the House passage of their bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industry at the border. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 will ensure the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across our nation’s borders by authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire additional inspectors, support staff and K-9 teams to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.

Peters serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Roberts and Stabenow are Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, respectively. U.S. Representative Filemon Vela Jr. (D-TX) introduced the companion legislation in the House.

“Our country faces a shortage of agricultural inspectors that could leave our agricultural industry vulnerable to diseases, pests, and other threats that could devastate our economy and compromise the health and safety of millions of Americans,” said Senator Peters. “I’m pleased the House passed my commonsense bill that will help facilitate secure and efficient international trade at ports of entry, and ensure farmers in Michigan and across the country can continue to raise the highest quality products.”

“This is the result of working together in a bipartisan fashion – a safer and more secure American food supply. This legislation strengthens the agricultural inspector workforce at our borders, giving much-needed and requested backup to the folks helping keep our food supply safe,” said Senator Roberts. “The Senate passed the bill in October, and I applaud the House for acting. I urge President Trump to swiftly sign this legislation into law.”

“Our farms and crops are under increasing threats from invasive pests and diseases,” said Senator Stabenow. “That’s why agricultural inspections at our borders are critically important to food safety and the protection of our farmers and consumers.”

“Hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ ports of entry annually,” said Senator Cornyn. “This law will boost the number of inspectors safeguarding the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border, which will benefit all Americans.”

“I know how vital Agriculture Inspectors, Technicians, and Canine Teams, and the work they perform, are for the protection and growth of our trade and agricultural sectors,” said Congressman Vela. He added, “Texas farms alone sold $24.9 billion in agricultural products in 2017, but those economic gains are threatened when our international ports of entry do not have the resources to mitigate pest and disease threats, like African Swine Fever.” The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 authorizes the hiring of 240 new Agriculture Specialists and 200 Agriculture Technicians until staffing shortages are resolved. It also provides for the assignment of 20 Agriculture Canine Teams to prevent the introduction of harmful pests and foreign animal disease from entering the United States. “I am honored to have introduced the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 in the House of Representatives, with support from both sides of the aisle, and to have worked in partnership with Senator Peters to ensure this legislation gets signed into law,” stated Congressman Vela.

“The agricultural industry is an indispensable sector of our national economy.  Robust staffing within U.S. Customs and Border Protection to protect the U.S. food supply is essential.  This bill will help ensure that we have enough agriculture inspectors in place to perform the critical mission of keeping our citizens – and the agriculture industry – secure.  I commend my counterpart in the Senate, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters, and my House colleague Congressman Filemon Vela for their leadership on this timely effort,” said House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS).

“I’ve long raised the issue of staffing levels at the border. It is critical that we have enough CBP agriculture inspectors, specialists, and canine teams to protect our ag operations and our rural economy from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN). “I represent a border district, where agriculture is a top industry, and The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act authorizes the crucial resources to help protect districts like mine. We need to do what we can to prevent these pests and diseases from endangering our domestic sources of production.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and CBP work together to facilitate safe and secure importation of agricultural goods into the U.S. The program’s Agricultural Specialists and K-9 units conduct inspections of 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.

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 K-9 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 K-9 teams.

The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, Border Trade Alliance, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Pork Producers Association, National Treasury Employees Union and the Airports Council International of North America.

Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:

“Ensuring the safe and secure trade of food and agriculture across our borders is critical to our nation’s economy. U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors play a critical role in preventing the spread of dangerous pests, invasive plants and animals, and diseases that can cause significant harm to the U.S. economy,” said John Drake, Executive Director of Supply Chain Policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “While the trade volume of food and agriculture is increasing, CBP staffing is having a hard time keeping pace. This bill would help address the problem by enabling CBP to hire critical workers to safeguard our borders and economy, and protect agricultural and livestock producers and the public.”

“This bipartisan legislation would help fill a critical gap at our country’s ports of entry. Agriculture Specialists, Technicians and canine teams root out, identify and stop invasive pests and other dangers to our nation’s farms and green spaces,” said Tony Reardon, President of the National Treasury Employees Union. “NTEU strongly supports this bipartisan bill and thanks Sen. Peters and Sen. Roberts for taking action to increase the numbers of employees at our ports who serve as the last defense against the accidental or deliberate introduction into our country of pests and plants that do not belong here.”

“The last several months have demonstrated how critically important well-resourced ports of entry are to the nation’s economic health. The Border Trade Alliance applauds this effort to ensure that ever-increasing volumes of cross-border agriculture trade can be processed securely and efficiently at our ports by highly trained CBP Agriculture Specialists,” said Ms. Britton Clarke, President of the Border Trade Alliance. “This is important legislation, and we thank Sen. Peters and Sen. Roberts for their good work to address this important staffing need.”

“Invasive species have been estimated to cost the US economy more than $120 billion annually, with more than half of that amount representing damage to American agriculture,” said Dr. Barb Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). “NASDA strongly supports funding for additional staff and canine units to enhance and maintain a framework designed to protect our nation’s food and agriculture through education, research, prevention, monitoring and control. We thank Senator Gary Peters and Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts for introducing this bill.”

“Preventing the spread of African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases to the United States is our top priority,” said 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.”

“With rising volumes of passengers and cargo at our nation’s airports, fully staffed CBP ports-of-entry are crucial to facilitate the travel and trade that spurs the U.S. economy,” said Mr. Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International – North America.  “We thank Senators Peters, Roberts, Cornyn, and Stabenow for advancing this important legislation to ensure there are a sufficient number of CBP Agriculture Specialists available to safely and efficiently process these ever-increasing volumes of cross-border shipments.”