Now’s not the time to let our guard down when it comes to protecting our U.S. borders, urged National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) president A.V. Roth. Unfortunately, an estimated $630-million shortfall in Agriculture Quarantine Inspections (AQI) funding through the end of fiscal year 2021 has the pork industry very concerned about future funding for agricultural inspections at U.S ports of entry.
“Pork producers are already facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of the COVID-19 human health pandemic. An outbreak of ASF or other foreign animal diseases in the U.S. would be a devastating blow to hog farmers already teetering on the edge,” Roth said during a media teleconference on Thursday.
A significant lapse in inspection funding is putting the U.S. in a precarious position. If left unaddressed, Roth believes this will result in serious consequences not just for livestock producers, but for all of U.S. agriculture.
“The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspections at U.S. ports of entry are funded by AQI program user fees,” he explained. “Due to the COVID-related economic downturn, and significant reductions in travel, collection of these user fees has dropped dramatically. Even worse, the user fee reserve funds maintained for such a contingency will be depleted this month. Without a prompt resolution, there will be an estimated $630 million shortfall.”
Protecting the nation's $1 trillion agriculture sector is more important than ever. Just last week, Germany reported its first case of ASF in a wild boar. After just one case, the repercussions have been swift and significant, Roth said. German pork exports have been suspended to a number of its biggest markets, including China, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.
“This swine-only disease continues to spread in parts of Europe and Asia and has killed one out of every four pigs in the world. Last week's news is an ever-present reminder that the United States needs to remain vigilant to protect our borders and our ports from ASF and other foreign animal diseases,” Roth said.
Fall Legislative Action Conference Goes Virtual
Pork producers from across the country have been gathering virtually this past week to address critical issues of importance with lawmakers. During this virtual fly-in, NPPC's members have been encouraging Congress to not only take immediate action to appropriate the $630 million needed to fund these inspections through September 2021, but they are also asking Congress to appropriate funding for 720 new agriculture inspectors at land, air and seaports.
“The members of Congress and their staffs are concerned. USDA is concerned. It's just a matter of making something happen,” said Nick Giordano, NPPC vice president and counsel for global government affairs.
NPPC is advocating for a COVID-19 assistance package that includes the following provisions:
1. Compensation for euthanized and donated hogs
2. Additional funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have appropriately assisted and shared resources with their public health partners
3. Modification of the Commodity Credit Corporation charter, so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for funding
4. Additional funds for direct payments to producers without restrictions
5. Extension of the Paycheck Protection Program with modifications to make it accessible to more producers
“We've been on the tip of trade retaliation for two years and then we had COVID. This was a black swan event for our industry,” said Neil Dierks, NPPC chief executive officer. “Producers and others have just responded phenomenally as far as to make sure that our responsibility to supply high quality pork protein continues. The issue becomes one of trying to get to a more normalized state with as many participants as possible.”
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