WASHINGTON – A joint letter representing more than 150 trade groups and associations representing the agricultural industry was sent to Congress on June 29 urging lawmakers to address a financial shortfall that could threaten the safety of agricultural goods being shipped into the United States. The letter warned of a potential funding shortfall in 2021 of approximately $630 million for Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) user fees normally collected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pay for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture inspections. The group encouraged Congress to appropriate funds to ensure continued inspection of goods to prevent the spread of animal and plant diseases and harmful pests, including African swine fever (ASF).

The funding shortage is attributed to backlash from the coronavirus (COVID-19). Typically, CBP personnel conduct inspections of international passengers as well as cargo shipments and are funded by AQI user fees paid to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to pay inspection personnel salaries and their expenses. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, global tourism and shipments of goods have dropped to historic lows. The group’s letter points out that at the current rate of decline, collection of user fees and funds in the APHIS user fee reserve fund will be depleted by the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

“We urge Congress to ensure that the essential work of CBP agriculture inspectors continues uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to US agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections.”

With the devastating threat posed by ASF, officials with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) iterated its support of the funding for inspections at the country’s ports. 

“CBP and USDA agriculture inspectors are our first line of defense to ensure African swine fever (ASF) and other foreign animal diseases remain outside the United States,” said NPPC President Howard Roth, who is also a hog farmer in Wauzeka, Wis. “Lapsed vigilance of these inspections would have devastating consequences for US pork producers and all of agriculture, the backbone of the American economy. It is vital that Congress address this significant funding shortfall, allowing US pork producers to maintain a healthy US swine herd.”