House approves ag inspectors bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that authorizes funding for 740 new agricultural inspectors at land, air and seaports to prevent African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases from entering the United States.

In October 2019, the Senate approved an identical version of the bill (S. 2017), which the House approved on Feb. 10. Providing additional agricultural inspectors represents a top priority for the National Pork Producers Council.

“For more than a year, NPPC has advocated for more agricultural inspectors at our borders,” said NPPC President David Herring, a hog farmer from Lillington, North Carolina. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection have done much to mitigate risk to animal disease, but we must remain vigilant. Today’s vote represents a tremendous victory for our farmers, consumers and the American economy. We thank Congressional leadership, led by Rep. Filemon Vela, D-TX, and Sens. Gary Peters, D-MI, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, Pat Roberts, R-KS, and John Cornyn, R-TX, for their strong leadership on this issue and look forward to the bill’s implementation.”

The legislation also authorizes 600 new agricultural technicians and 60 new agricultural canine teams.

The most likely path for a FAD to enter the country would be through the illegal transport of contaminated products. An outbreak of certain FADs would immediately close U.S. pork export markets, causing significant damage to farmers and consumers. NPPC continues to advocate for other FAD preparedness measures, including quickly establishing a U.S. Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine bank as provided for in the 2018 farm bill. The U.S. does not currently have access to enough vaccine to quickly contain and eradicate an FMD outbreak.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, applauded the action noting the bill also authorizes the training and assignment of 20 new canine 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 canine teams.

“Agriculture is critical to the security of our nation. As threats of African Swine Fever, bird flu, and other crippling agricultural epidemics sweep across the globe, it’s imperative that we take the necessary steps to protect America’s food supply and agricultural industries,” he said.

The USDA and CBP work together to facilitate the safe and secure entry of agricultural goods into the U.S, Lucas said in his news release. The program’s Agricultural Specialists and canine 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.

China, the top pork producer in the world, lost half of its 440 million hog population due to the African Swine Fever.

According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Affairs, an outbreak of H5N1 avian flu virus has occurred on a farm in the Shuangqing district of Shaoyang city killing 4,500 of 7,850 chickens. Local authorities have culled 17,828 poultry entirely in the region.