Over 150 agriculture groups from around the United States sent a letter on Monday to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, asking them to ensure that the Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Quarantine Inspection (AQI) has adequate funding by granting an additional $630 million to the program.
“The $1 trillion U.S. agriculture sector is a crucial component of the American economy. CBP agriculture inspectors perform critically important agricultural inspections every day at the nation’s ports of entry to prevent the entry of foreign plant and animal pests and diseases,” the letter stated.
The associations claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the funding and operations of the program which keeps American crops or animals safe from foreign diseases and pests. The program is funded through AQI user fees collected by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). Because travel and maritime shipping have significantly decreased, there has been a reduction in AQI fee collections. The letter claimed the reserve fund for APHIS will be depleted by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We urge Congress to ensure that the essential work of CBP agriculture inspectors continues uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We depend on AQI to ensure that America’s agriculture sector remains safe from foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to U.S. agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections,” the associations wrote.
The National Pork Producers Council led the coalition of agriculture and trade groups who sent the letter to Congress. The letter specifically mentions the threat of African swine fever, which has killed about 25 percent of pigs around the world.
NPPC President Howard “AV” Roth said “CBP and USDA agriculture inspectors are our first line of defense to ensure African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases remain outside the United States … Lapsed vigilance of these inspections would have devastating consequences for U.S. pork producers and all of agriculture, the backbone of the American economy. It is vital that Congress address this significant funding shortfall.”