The House passed the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors.
The legislation allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire additional inspectors, support staff and K-9 teams to staff airports, seaports and land ports of entry.
“Our farms and crops are under increasing threats from invasive pests and diseases,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “That’s why agricultural inspections at our borders are critically important to food safety and the protection of our farmers and consumers.”
“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 Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, House Agriculture Committee chairman. “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.”
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.
“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.”