Annual hiring of an additional 240 agricultural specialists to strengthen U.S. borders and ports of entry and 200 agricultural technicians for administrative and support functions along with 20 new K-9 teams is now authorized by law.

President Trump has signed The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, bipartisan legislation authorizing the annual new hiring until a shortage of 700 agricultural inspectors at borders and ports of entry is filled.

The new K-9 teams are being added because they’ve proven effective in detecting illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that otherwise might be missed in initial inspections.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) is charged with hiring the additional agricultural inspectors until fully staffed at all airports, seaports, and land ports of entry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and CPB are responsible for the safe and secure importation of agricultural goods into the United States.

On a typical day, CPB inspectors see 1 million passengers and 78,000 truck, rail, and sea containers enter the country with goods worth about $7.2 billion.

Ports of entry are the last opportunity USDA has to stop everything from invasive species to foreign animal diseases like African Swine fever (ASF).

“To further safeguard American agriculture, we need additional agriculture inspectors at our sea and airports,” said David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council. “This is essential legislation will help address the current inspection shortfall, reduce the risk of ASF and other foreign animal diseases, and protect the food supply for U.S. consumers.”

Invasive species cost the U.S. economy an estimated $120 billion annually with half of that amount representing damage to U.S. agriculture, according to Dr. Barb Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)

The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 was introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters, D-MI, Pat Robers, R-KS, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, and John Cornyn, R-TX. Rep. Filemon Vela, Jr., D-TX, sponsored the companion bill in the House of Representatives.

Michigan, with two of the nation’s busiest border crossings, will benefit from the beefed-up agricultural inspections. Every day about 300,000 people and $910 million in trade cross its Northern Border.

“Michigan’s valuable agricultural industry depends on the safe and secure flow of goods and people through our nation’s border crossing,” said Sen. Peters. “That secure travel is made possible by the hardworking border security professional charged with safeguarding our state against diseases, pests, and other threats that could devastate our farm economy and compromise the health and safety of millions of Americans.”

Peters ended with a promise “to secure our borders and protect Michigan’s farmers and producers.”

Sen. Stabenow said the signing “protects farmers, consumers and the safety of our food supply.:

“We worked across the aisle, through both chambers, to ensure Agriculture Specialists and Technicians at our ports of entry are adequately staffed to carry out critical Agricultural Quarantine Inspections that safeguard America’s agricultural sector from pests and foreign animal diseases,” added Rep. Vela, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said there’s a “critical gap” to be filled at the country’s ports of entry and the employees that work the border are our “last line of defense” against the accidental or deliberate unwanted entries.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)