WASHINGTON – A group of organizations representing agriculture industry stakeholders urged the US House of Representatives to pass a bill that would fund additional US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents, canine teams and other resources dedicated to preventing the introduction of harmful pests and animal diseases into the United States.
The “Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019” a response to the spread of pests and outbreaks of deadly animal diseases such as African Swine Fever that threaten the US agriculture industry. The bill authorizes the CBP Commissioner to hire, train and assign new CBP agriculture specialists and agriculture technicians each year until staffing targets are met. The CBP commissioner also would have the power to train 20 new canine teams during the first three years following enactment of the legislation.
In a letter addressed to Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Ranking Member Rep. Mike Rogers, the groups said the funding is necessary because foreign pests and diseases cost the US economy “tens of billions of dollars annually.”
Each day, CPB agents inspect more than 1 million passengers and pedestrians in addition to more than 78,000 truck, rail and sea containers carrying goods valued at $7.2 billion, according to the Dept. of Homeland Security. The inspections uncover “…tens of thousands of actionable pests” — pests determined by a scientific risk assessment to be dangerous to the health and safety of the nation’s agriculture supply.”
CBP reported that Agriculture Specialists intercepted 319 pests, and quarantined 4,552 materials, including meat, plant, animal byproduct and soil in fiscal 2018. But the inspection program currently is experiencing staffing shortages that could make the US food and agriculture supply vulnerable to pests and diseases.
“The US agriculture sector is a crucial component of the American economy, generating over $1 trillion in annual economic activity,” the groups said in the letter.
“CBP employees perform critically important agricultural inspections every day at the nation’s ports of entry,” the letter continued. “CBP Agricultural Specialists play a vital role in both trade and travel safety and prevent the introduction of harmful foreign animal diseases and exotic plant pests into the US. Diseases such as African Swine Fever, which has killed more than one out of every four pigs on the planet, would have a devastating impact on US livestock producers, their communities, and the economy if introduced into the US.”
The Senate recently approved its version of the bill, S. 2107, by unanimous consent.