WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors at the nation’s ports of entry. Agricultural inspectors work to protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industries by preventing the intentional or unintentional entry of harmful plants, food, animals and goods into the United States. 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 (CBP) to hire additional inspectors to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry.
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.
“Agricultural inspectors help secure our country from serious threats that could disrupt our food supply or endanger our agricultural industry,” said Senator Peters. “We need more inspectors and support staff to effectively carry out this vital national security mission and protect Americans’ health and safety. I’m proud to have lead this bipartisan effort, and I look forward to the full Senate passing this bill as quickly as possible.”
“I’m pleased this important piece of bipartisan legislation is one step closer to the finish line,” said Senator Roberts. “The Department of Homeland Security is a fundamental partner in supporting American agriculture, one of our critical national infrastructures. The protection of our agriculture and food supply chain is of utmost importance, and this bill aims to do just that through a strengthened workforce at our borders.”
“Agricultural inspectors are our first line of defense against threats to our agricultural economy,” said Senator Stabenow. ” I’m pleased we are one step closer to hiring more agriculture specialists to address serious shortages and protect the safety of our food supply.”
“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, and I’m grateful to my colleagues on the Committee for their support.”
The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the U.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.
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 American Farm Bureau Federation, National Treasury Employees Union, Border Trade Alliance, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Pork Producers, National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association, the Michigan Pork Producers, Airports Council International - North America, and City of Pharr - International Bridge.
Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:
“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.”
“Michigan Farm Bureau applauds Senators Gary Peters and Pat Roberts for introducing the Agricultural Specialist bill,” said John Kran, National Legislative Counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “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. 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.”
“Customs and Border Protection’s agricultural inspectors are the first line of defense against imported products that may contain diseases, invasive species, or other threats that pose a multi-billion dollar risk to Michigan’s agricultural markets,” said Jim Byrum, President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “The Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act of 2019 will help reduce this risk to the agricultural economy in Michigan and across the country by addressing longstanding shortages at our nation’s ports of entry. We are supportive of this bill and applaud Senator Peters for his leadership on this issue.”
“With the outbreak of African Swine Fever in China and many other countries around the world, U.S. border safeguards are more important than ever to protect America’s food supply,” said Mary Kelpinksi, CEO of the Michigan Pork Producers Association. “Border security professionals must have the resources necessary to carry out this critical mission and protect our nation from contaminated or fraudulent imports. This commonsense legislation will help ensure our farmers can continue to produce the highest quality products—without fear that foreign imports will compromise the quality of U.S. goods.”
“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.”