US Senate to debate strengthening meat border checks

By Ed Zwirn, in New York

- Last updated on GMT

US Senate to debate strengthening meat border checks
A bipartisan bill has been proposed in the United States Senate to fill what the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has warned is a shortage of nearly 700 agricultural inspectors at ports of entry.

The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, if approved, would authorises the annual hiring by the CBP of 240 agricultural specialists every year until the workforce shortage is filled. It would also authorise the hiring of 200 agricultural technicians annually to carry out administrative and support functions. The bill also orders the training and assignment of 20 new canine teams each year.

“Devastating diseases and pests are just one plane or boat ride away from causing havoc for American agriculture. Thus, diligence by the customs and border patrol agriculture specialists is vital to a safe and affordable food supply,"​ said Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, who, as member of the majority party of the upper house of Congress chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, nutrition and forestry. He is one of the two Republicans and two Democrats initially cosponsoring the bill.

"This bipartisan legislation helps to ensure that our borders are properly staffed and resourced to protect US agriculture, the backbone of our national economy,”​ he added.

On a typical day, CBP inspectors process more than 78,000 lorry, rail and sea containers carrying goods worth approximately USD7.2 billion. In March, agricultural inspectors and their canine teams intercepted roughly 1 million pounds (453,000kg) of meat products smuggled from China, including significant volumes of pork products. China is currently undergoing an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF), and additional checks on such illicit trades is therefore important, proponents of the bill point out.

The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Treasury Employees Union, advocacy group the Border Trade Alliance, NASDA (the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture), the National Pork Producers Council, farm group the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Agri-Business Association and the Michigan Pork Producers Association.

“Preventing the spread of African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases to the United States is our top priority,”​ said David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council.

While Herring said he appreciated the work of the US department of agriculture and the US Customs and Border Protection agency to strengthen US frontier biosecurity, “to further safeguard American agriculture, we need additional agriculture inspectors at our sea and airports”​. He said the proposed law was “essential”​ and would “help address the current inspection shortfall, reduce the risk of ASF and other foreign animal diseases, and protect the food supply for US consumers”.

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