By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
The House on Feb. 10 passed by voice vote an NGFA-supported bill that would authorize funding to hire additional Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel needed to conduct agriculture quarantine inspections at U.S. international ports of entry, the last step in the process toward the legislation becoming law.
The NGFA joined more than 80 food and agriculture groups in support of the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 (H.R. 4482), which would authorize CBP to hire 240 agriculture specialists and 200 agriculture technicians each year until the current staffing shortage is remedied. The effort was led by the National Pork Producers Council.
In a Feb. 7 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the groups noted that “foreign pests and diseases cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars annually…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 United States.
The agricultural groups also noted in the letter – which Reps. Xochitl Liana Torres Small, D-N.M., and Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, referenced in floor speeches before the vote – that diseases such as African Swine Fever would have a devastating impact on U.S. livestock producers and the economy if introduced into the country.
The bill also authorizes the training and assignment each year of 20 new agricultural canine teams. These agriculture-detector dogs are used to sniff out illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that otherwise may have been missed in initial inspections, the groups said.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (S. 2107), said there’s a shortage of nearly 700 inspectors across the country. The Senate approved S. 2107 by unanimous consent last October.