Mar 4, 2020Shortage of ag inspectors at borders addressed by signed bill
President Donald Trump has signed into law U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-MI, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industry at the border.
According to its supporters, the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 ensures 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, 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 crossings: the Detroit-Windsor crossing and the Blue Water Bridge. 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.
“Michigan’s valuable agricultural industry depends on the safe and secure flow of goods and people through our nation’s border crossings,” said 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.”
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.
Peters introduced the legislation with U.S. Senators Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, and John Cornyn R-TX. 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.
The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association, and Michigan Pork Producers Association.
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.”
“Michigan Farm Bureau applauds Senators Gary Peters and Pat Roberts for introducing the Agricultural Specialist bill,” said John Kran, National Legislative Counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “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.”
“Customs and Border Protection’s agricultural inspectors are the first line of defense against imported products that may contain diseases, invasive species, or other threats that pose a multi-billion dollar risk to Michigan’s agricultural markets,” said Jim Byrum, Outgoing President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “The Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act of 2019 will help reduce this risk to the agricultural economy in Michigan and across the country by addressing longstanding shortages at our nation’s ports of entry. We are supportive of this bill and applaud Senator Peters for his leadership on this issue.”
“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.”