Agriculture specialists with U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized more than 1.6 million prohibited plants materials, meat, and animal by-products and intercepted nearly 183,000 pests at ports of entry in the year ending Sept. 30, a report from the agency said.

The fiscal year 2011 data (October 2010 through September 2011) shows those numbers were down slightly from fiscal year 2010, when CBP reported seizures of 1.71 million prohibited plant and animal materials and interceptions of 196,815 pests at ports of entry. The agency also said the amount of trade that CBP processed at U.S. borders grew by 14% to $2.3 trillion in fiscal year 2011, with the entry of 340 million travelers and 24.3 million containers at ports of entry.

Industry leaders said more could be done to protect U.S. agriculture, though few expect a push to return agricultural inspectors to be moved back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from the Department of Homeland Security. All USDA APHIS border and port inspection personnel were shifted to the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003 with the passage of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act.

“From the trade perspective, there has been progress made,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League. “Overall I think we are headed in the right direction, but the challenges are only going to get tougher.”

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said investment in pest exclusion programs should be a high priority for CBP.

It is now more realistic to elevate the importance of agricultural inspections within Homeland Security rather than try to move agricultural inspectors back to USDA, said Chris Schlect, president of the Wenatchee, Wash., Northwest Horticultural Council. He said Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, introduced the Safeguarding American Agriculture Act of 2011 earlier this year. The bill would establish an Office of Agriculture Inspection with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The legislation, formally supported by Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and the Sacramento-based California Farm Bureau Federation, would raise the profile of agricultural inspections within CBP, he said. Schlect said it was likely the 2012 farm bill would include language seeking more resources for CBP agricultural inspections.

Guenther said United Fresh was analyzing the Feinstein legislation and working with industry allied organizations to come up with a unified position on the bill.