U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow are among a bipartisan group introducing legislation to address the shortage of inspectors who protect our food supply and agricultural industries at the border by preventing the intentional or unintentional entry of harmful plants, food, animals and goods.
Joining the two Michigan Democrats are Republican Sens. Pat Roberts from Kansas and John Cornyn from Texas.
“Every day, millions of pounds of produce, meat and other agricultural goods enter the United States through our nation’s ports of entry,” said Peters, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Agricultural inspectors are responsible for ensuring these goods move efficiently across our borders while safeguarding against harmful pests, diseases and even potential bioterrorism attacks. 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.”
According to a statement released by the committee, 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. CBP estimates there is a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country.
Specifically, the bill allows the hiring of 240 agricultural specialists annually until the workforce shortage is filled and 200 agricultural technicians annually to carry out administrative and support functions. It 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.
“Michigan Farm Bureau applauds Senators Gary Peters and Pat Roberts for introducing the bill,” said John Kran, Michigan Farm Bureau’s National Legislative Counsel. “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.”
The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the U.S. The program’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.
In addition to the 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.