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California disproportionately hit by foreign pest, disease infestations

California's high-volume sea, air and land ports carry millions of passengers and millions of tons of cargo. These entries create constant opportunities for economic damage to the state’s agricultural economy.

Sunkist Growers strongly supports the Safeguarding American Agriculture Act of 2011 introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).  This important legislation seeks to enhance the federal government’s resources in countering the economic impact of foreign pest and disease infestations in the U.S.

Sunkist Growers is a 118 year-old farmer cooperative owned by thousands of citrus producers in California and Arizona.

Until 2001, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) had responsibility for inspections of goods, including agricultural products, that enter the United States.  After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over those activities and under the revised system, federal resources were primarily directed toward terrorist threats and away from agricultural priorities. 

Subsequent Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigations found that DHS has suffered from diminishing employee morale and dwindling resources for these high-skilled, labor-intensive agricultural activities.  Unfortunately, federal resources were failing as the U.S. saw huge increases over the decade in foreign imports of fruit and vegetable host material for these exotic threats.

As the largest agricultural state in the country, California is disproportionately affected by foreign pest and disease infestations.  The state’s high-volume sea, air and land ports carry millions of passengers and millions of tons of cargo annually.  These entries create constant opportunities for introduction and resulting economic damage to the state’s agricultural economy. 

Infestations by a variety of pest and diseases, including the Mediterranean fruit fly and the Asian citrus psyllid/citrus greening disease have caused and threaten to cause millions of dollars in damage to California’s citrus industry.

Therefore, the farmers that comprise Sunkist Growers strongly support and applaud Sen. Feinstein’s interest in raising the priority of the agriculture inspection role within DHS.  The dedication of resources, mandatory coordination of activities with USDA and establishment of a responsible Office of Agriculture Inspection are all positive actions intended to reduce the tremendous economic threat and resulting federal financial burden of foreign pest and disease-related disasters.

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