Ag Groups Warn Congress of Major Ag Inspection Funding Shortfall

( U.S. Customs and Border Protection )

A major funding shortfall could severely weaken agricultural inspections at U.S. borders, according to a coalition of more than 150 agriculture, trade and related groups led by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

NPPC sent a letter Monday to Congress urging lawmakers to protect our nation's agriculture by appropriating funding to address what could be a $630-million COVID-19-related shortfall through fiscal year 2021.

The coalition highlighted a funding shortfall for Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI), which plays a critical role in protecting U.S. agriculture from plant and animal pests and diseases, according to a NPPC release. 

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) collects the AQI user fees that pay for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture inspections. However, due to the recent economic downturn and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, there has been a significant reduction in the collection of these user fees, NPPC wrote. 

"We depend on AQI to ensure that American agriculture remains safe from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to U.S. agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections," the coalition wrote.

The $1 trillion U.S. agriculture sector depends on CBP agriculture inspectors to perform critically important agricultural inspections every day at the nation’s ports of entry to prevent the entry of foreign plant and animal pests and diseases. Foreign pests and diseases, such as African swine fever, would have a devastating effect on American agriculture if they reached our shores, the coalition explained in the letter.  

"CBP and USDA agriculture inspectors are our first line of defense to ensure African swine fever (ASF) and other foreign animal diseases (FADs) remain outside the United States," NPPC President Howard "AV" Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wis., said in a release. "Lapsed vigilance of these inspections would have devastating consequences for U.S. pork producers and all of agriculture, the backbone of the American economy. It is vital that Congress address this significant funding shortfall, allowing U.S. pork producers to maintain a healthy U.S. swine herd."

FAD prevention is a key focus of the pork industry. In March 2020, President Donald Trump signed legislation that authorized funding for an additional 720 agricultural inspectors at land, air and sea ports, as well as 600 more agricultural technicians and 60 new agricultural canine teams. 

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, NPPC said in a release. The U.S. does not currently have access to enough vaccine to quickly contain and eradicate an FMD outbreak.

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

A U.S. Vaccine Bank: The Best Insurance Policy to an FMD Outbreak

African Swine Fever: Trust Your Instinct, Be Prepared

NPPC Remains Focused on ASF Prevention Efforts

President Trump Signs Bill to Protect U.S. Against African Swine Fever