There are only a handful of federal government agencies with responsibilities to protect the public, property and industries from the harmful effects of biological pests and diseases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is one of those critical agencies administering programs and working with a network of local and state stakeholders that deliver a public benefit of ensuring an abundant, affordable and safe food and fiber supply for the U.S. and the world.
In addition, APHIS facilitates U.S. agricultural trade by assessing plant and animal health risks and working to eliminate trade barriers by ensuring trade decisions involving biological pests are made based on science. Annual U.S. agricultural exports are typically around $140 billion (USDA-ERS). U.S. agricultural imports are just over $100 billion annually. Now more than ever, due to increased international trade and travel, early pest detection is important to prevent significant economic and environmental damage caused by biological threats like animal and plant pests and diseases. Moreover, APHIS manages and resolves sanitary (animal) and phytosanitary (plant) “SPS” trade disputes. SPS trade issues are often part of bilateral trade negotiations with the goal of reducing these disputes and continuing APHIS’ focus on harmonizing trade regulations.
APHIS uses about $1 billion in taxpayer dollars appropriated by Congress each year to protect agriculture and food industries that contribute $1 trillion to U.S. GDP. It’s a massive undertaking especially given the vast array of pests and diseases proliferating around the world and when considering APHIS is funded annually using only one, one-thousandth of the annual U.S. federal budget.
Protecting Plant Health
One of the many ways APHIS protects U.S. plant health is through a program Congress adopted in the 2008 Farm Bill (Pub. L. 110–234) known as the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program. This program is funded using $75 million authorized annually to fund projects organized around the U.S. that adhere to scientifically-generated goal areas that address critical needs and strengthen, prevent, detect, and mitigate invasive pests and diseases.
Congress’ intent in authorizing the program is to selectively target the use of the limited funding. So, Congress included special funding considerations based on pest pathways. Congress granted the Secretary of Agriculture authority to provided funds to respective state departments of agriculture if the Secretary determines that the state department of agriculture is in a state that has a high risk of being affected by 1 or more plant pests or diseases,. The Secretary must also take into consideration the following important priorities:
- The number of international ports of entry in the state;
- The volume of international passenger and cargo entry into the state;
- The geographic location of the state and if the location or types of agricultural commodities produced in the state are conducive to agricultural pests and diseases;
- Crop diversity or natural resources (including unique plant species) of the state; and
- Whether the Secretary has determined that an agricultural pest or disease in the state is a federal concern
Further, the funding may also be used for:
- Threat Identification and Mitigation Programs,
- Specialty Crop Certification and Risk Management Systems, and
- National Clean Plant Network.
In FY 2019 the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program provided $59.5 million to 52 U.S. states and territories. APHIS will soon announce their plans for the FY 2020 program.
The many successful years of APHIS implementation of vital biological programs to combat pests and diseases can largely be attributed to APHIS officials finding ways to do more with less and wisely using limited taxpayer dollars. The lessons learned is there is great need for consistent & adequate federal funding for continuous support of biological efforts – not just to discover new pests and diseases that impact U.S. agriculture and the food supply – but to:
1) Mitigate pests offshore and eliminate pathways of introduction;
2) Prepare for the potential introduction of certain pests; and
3) Rapidly and effectively respond to introductions when they occur.