Washington-Today U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced the Safeguarding American Agriculture Act of 2011 to enhance agricultural import and entry inspections at ports of entry across the nation. The legislation is supported by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the National Treasury Employees Union, Western Growers, the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and Louisville Slugger.
Senator Feinstein said: “The legislation Senator Akaka and I have introduced will improve the safety of American agriculture by strengthening inspections at our borders and ports of entry.
“In recent years California has experienced outbreaks of Asian Citrus Psyllid and European Grapevine Moth, which have damaged orange groves and vineyards. Other global pests including the Mediterranean, Mexican and Caribbean Fruit Flies, the French Tamarisk and the Asian Long Horned Beetle are believed to have made their way into California through our ports of entry.
“Agriculture inspectors at our borders must have the tools, resources and access they need to defend our agricultural industry from the potentially catastrophic losses associated when these invasive pests and diseases enter our country.”
Senator Akaka said: “Invasive species can inflict significant irreversible harm on the environment and to businesses, taxpayers, and local governments. Focusing on prevention, specifically improving agricultural inspections conducted at our ports of entry, is a highly cost-effective investment. The Safeguarding American Agriculture Act would strengthen our agricultural import and entry inspection functions to better protect our natural resources and economy against foreign pests and disease.
“In Hawaii, invasive species and disease threaten to permanently devastate our state’s fragile ecosystem which is home to more endangered species per square mile than any other place on the planet.
“Invasive species arrive at U.S. ports of entry every day, often hidden in the wooden crates, pallets, and shipping containers used to transport agricultural cargo, or concealed in the imported goods themselves. Failure to detect and intercept these non-native pests and diseases imposes serious economic and social costs on all Americans.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that foreign pests and disease already cost the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars annually in lower crop values, eradication programs, emergency payments to farmers, and increased costs for food and other natural resources. A recent study by scientists from U.S. and Canadian universities and the U.S. Forest Service found invasive wood-boring pests, such as the emerald ash borer beetle, cost homeowners an estimated $830 million a year in lost property values and cost local governments an estimated $1.7 billion a year as a result of damaged trees and woodlands.
Even an important part of our American pastime of baseball is at stake. For the past 127 years Louisville Slugger has manufactured high quality baseball bats from northern white ash trees harvested in Pennsylvania and New York. However, the company is concerned that the destructive emerald ash borer beetle could lead to the extinction of northern white ash trees, preventing Louisville Slugger from providing future generations with the company’s famous ash bats.
The Safeguarding American Agriculture Act would elevate the agriculture mission within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and enhance agricultural inspection operations at U.S. ports of entry so that the potential introduction of plant and animal pest and diseases would be regarded with the same fervor as all other mission areas within CBP. Among other provisions, it would:
- Enhance accountability and raise the priority of the agriculture mission by establishing within CBP an Office of Agriculture Inspection led by an Assistant Commissioner responsible for improving agricultural inspection operations across the Nation;
- Require CBP to create a comprehensive agriculture specialist career track that ensures that agriculture specialists are provided the training, experience, and assignments necessary for career progression within CBP;
- Require CBP to develop plans to improve agriculture specialist recruitment and retention and to make sure agriculture specialists have the necessary equipment and resources to fully and effectively carry out their mission; and
- Authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into an agreement establishing an interagency rotation program for CBP and APHIS personnel to strengthen critical working relationships and promote interagency experience.