WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed into law a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and John Cornyn (R-TX) to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industry at the border. The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 ensures 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, support staff and K-9 teams to fully staff America’s airports, seaports and land ports of entry. Michigan is home to two of the nation’s busiest border crossing. Every day, approximately 300,000 people and $910 million in trade cross the Northern Border, which is the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world.
Peters serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Roberts and Stabenow are Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, respectively. U.S. Representative Filemon Vela Jr. (D-TX) introduced the companion legislation in the House.
“Michigan’s valuable agricultural industry depends on the safe and secure flow of goods and people through our nation’s border crossings,” said Senator Peters. “That secure travel is made possible by the hardworking border security professionals charged with safeguarding our state against diseases, pests, and other threats that could devastate our farm economy and compromise the health and safety of millions of Americans. I’m grateful that my bipartisan bill has been signed into law, and I will continue working to secure our borders and protect Michigan farmers and producers.”
“I’m proud that our bipartisan bill is being signed into law to support the agricultural inspectors serving at our borders,” said Senator Roberts. “The safety and security of our nation’s agriculture and food supply is more important than ever, and I thank President Trump for swiftly signing this legislation into law.”
“Our farms and crops are under increasing threats from invasive pests and diseases,” said Senator Stabenow. “I’m pleased we will now be able to hire more agricultural inspectors at our borders to protect farmers, consumers, and the safety of our food supply.”
“Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ land, air, and sea ports of entry,” said Senator Cornyn. “This law will increase the number of inspectors safeguarding the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border, which will benefit not just Texans but all Americans.”
“Texas relies on the trade and agricultural sectors. That is why introducing The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 in the House of Representatives was a priority for me. I am honored to have worked with Senator Peters to get this bill signed into law and thank Senators Roberts, Stabenow, and Cornyn for their leadership,” said Congressman Vela. “We worked across the aisle, through both chambers, to ensure Agriculture Specialists and Technicians at our ports of entry are adequately staffed to carry out critical Agriculture Quarantine Inspections that safeguard America’s agriculture sector from pests and foreign animal diseases. I know there is more work to be done and we will continue to work to ensure that our ports of entry have the resources they need to maintain and improve the safe flow of goods.”
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.
Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:
“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.”
“This bipartisan legislation would help fill a critical gap at our country’s ports of entry. Agriculture Specialists, Technicians and canine teams root out, identify and stop invasive pests and other dangers to our nation’s farms and green spaces,” said Tony Reardon, President of the National Treasury Employees Union. “NTEU strongly supports this bipartisan bill and thanks Sen. Peters and Sen. Roberts for taking action to increase the numbers of employees at our ports who serve as the last defense against the accidental or deliberate introduction into our country of pests and plants that do not belong here.”
“The last several months have demonstrated how critically important well-resourced ports of entry are to the nation’s economic health. The Border Trade Alliance applauds this effort to ensure that ever-increasing volumes of cross-border agriculture trade can be processed securely and efficiently at our ports by highly trained CBP Agriculture Specialists,” said Ms. Britton Clarke, President of the Border Trade Alliance. “This is important legislation, and we thank Sen. Peters and Sen. Roberts for their good work to address this important staffing need.”
“Invasive species have been estimated to cost the US economy more than $120 billion annually, with more than half of that amount representing damage to American agriculture,” said Dr. Barb Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). “NASDA strongly supports funding for additional staff and canine units to enhance and maintain a framework designed to protect our nation’s food and agriculture through education, research, prevention, monitoring and control. We thank Senator Gary Peters and Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts for introducing this bill.”
“Preventing the spread of African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases to the United States is our top priority,” said David Herring, President of the National Pork Producers Council. “We appreciate all that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing to strengthen biosecurity at our borders. To further safeguard American agriculture, we need additional agriculture inspectors at our sea and airports. This essential legislation will help address the current inspection shortfall, reduce the risk of ASF and other foreign animal diseases, and protect the food supply for U.S. consumers.”
“With rising volumes of passengers and cargo at our nation’s airports, fully staffed CBP ports-of-entry are crucial to facilitate the travel and trade that spurs the U.S. economy,” said Mr. Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International – North America. “We thank Senators Peters, Roberts, Cornyn, and Stabenow for advancing this important legislation to ensure there are a sufficient number of CBP Agriculture Specialists available to safely and efficiently process these ever-increasing volumes of cross-border shipments.”
–Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
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