The U.S. Senate has passed legislation to address a shortage of agricultural inspectors at borders who inspect imports for invasive species and other potential threats.
The Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act of 2019 authorizes the Customs and Border Protection to hire inspectors, support staff and canine teams for airports, seaports and land ports of entry, according to a news release from the office of Sen. Gary Peters, R-Mich., a co-sponsor of the bill.
The bill is waiting for approval by the House of Representatives.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and CPB work together to inspect imported agricultural goods, along with the program’s Agricultural Specialists and canine staff. They process more than a million passengers and 78,000 truck, rail and sea containers every day. The CBP estimates there is a shortage of almost 700 inspectors across the country, according to the release.
The bill authorizes hiring 240 agricultural specialists a year until the shortage is filled, and 200 agricultural technicians a year for administrative and support functions. The bill also calls for the 20 new canine teams each year, which are trained to detect unauthorized fruits and vegetables.
“Invasive species have been estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $120 billion annually, with more than half of that amount representing damage to American agriculture,” Barb Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said in the release.
“Agriculture is a critical economic driver in Michigan and across the country, but longstanding shortages of agricultural inspectors limits Customs and Border Protection’s ability to prevent pests, diseases and other dangers from entering our country and puts production at risk,” Peters said in the release.
Other sponsors of the bill are senators Pat Roberts, R-KS, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ ports of entry annually,” Cornyn said in the release. “This legislation would boost the number of inspectors safeguarding the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border, which would benefit all Americans.”