Legislation unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on Oct. 25 to authorize the hiring of more than 200 inspectors in an attempt to address the ongoing shortage of staff responsible for protecting the nation’s food supply and agricultural products at U.S. borders. Formally titled the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, the bill now awaits consideration by the U.S. House.
Supported by Michigan Farm Bureau, the state’s own Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow are among the bipartisan group leading the effort to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry to ensure safe and secure trade of agriculture goods. Previous estimates indicate a nationwide shortage of nearly 700 inspectors.
“Agriculture is a critical economic driver in Michigan and across the country, but longstanding shortages of agricultural inspectors limits Customs and Border Protection’s ability to prevent pests, diseases and other dangers from entering our country and puts production at risk,” said Peters, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Every day, millions of passengers and tens of thousands of shipping containers carrying food products cross our nation’s borders, any one of which could do significant damage to America’s food supply and agricultural industries. I’m pleased the Senate unanimously approved my bipartisan bill to fill this unacceptable security gap, and I look forward to its swift consideration in the House of Representatives.”
According to a statement released by the committee, the legislationwould authorize the annual hiring of 240 Agricultural Specialists 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.
“We applaud Senators Gary Peters and Pat Roberts for introducing the bill,” said John Kran, national legislative counsel for 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.”
In addition to Michigan Farm Bureau, the legislation is supported by 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, National Pork Producers, Michigan Agri-Business Association and the Michigan Pork Producers.