Washington D.C. – American farmers would face fewer invasive species and pests coming across the border under legislation that passed Congress Monday with overwhelming bipartisan support and now awaits the president’s signature.
The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act authorizes Customs and Border Protection to hire 240 more Agriculture Specialists, 200 Agriculture Technicians and 20 Agriculture Canine Teams per year until the agency’s staffing shortage is eliminated.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP employees at the nation’s 328 ports of entry, endorsed the legislation last year and has been instrumental in gathering broad support from Republicans, Democrats, business, industry and agriculture interests around the country.
“CBP Agriculture Specialists are on the front lines at airports, seaports and land ports intercepting dangerous insects, contaminated animal products and diseased plant material,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “This is a stressful job and the inadequate staffing levels are taking a toll.”
CBP’s own workload model calls for an additional 721 Agriculture Specialists in order to fully staff the ports.
“The massive outpouring of support for the legislation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, multiple governors and more than 150 agriculture groups shows just how crucial CBP staffing is to protecting our crops, forests, farms and food,” Reardon said. “We applaud Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas and the dozens of cosponsors who led the way in getting this bill to the president’s desk.”
The bill was approved by the Senate in October and passed unanimously in the House Monday night.
According to CBP’s Fiscal Year 2019 trade and travel report, CBP Agriculture Specialists intercepted more than 56,000 harmful pests and more than 1.75 million prohibited plant materials, meats and animal byproducts during import and traveler inspections last year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that foreign pests and diseases cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars annually, according to a letter that advocates, including NTEU, sent to House members last week.
“The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act is a major step toward a more secure food supply and robust economic growth, and we encourage Congress to follow it with a commitment to provide the funding necessary to start hiring more highly trained Agriculture Specialists, Technicians and Canine Teams as soon as possible,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.