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News Release

Release No. 0118.08
Contact:
Melissa O'Dell, APHIS (301) 734-5222
Angela Harless, USDA (202) 720-4623

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USDA AND DHS ADVOCATE "SUCCESS THROUGH PARTNERSHIP" IN GLOBAL BATTLE TO PROTECT AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Departments hold joint conference with agriculture stakeholders April 29 - May 1

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2008--The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a Success through Partnership conference in Washington, D.C. to update agricultural stakeholders on the departments' joint effort to strengthen the delivery of the agriculture mission. DHS and USDA are partners in protecting American agriculture against the introduction of unwanted plant pests and foreign animal diseases at our nation's ports of entry.

"While we cannot inspect our way to a threat-free import system, we can take steps throughout the process to keep pests and diseases from ever making it to our ports of entry," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. "This meeting gave USDA and DHS an opportunity to exchange ideas with stakeholders and showcase the significant strides we've made--and continue making--to further protect American agriculture."

The event included discussions on the activities and progress of DHS' U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) initiatives. Participants also were updated on the efforts of the Joint Agency Task Force and the newly established Federal-State Agricultural Quarantine Inspection Partnership Council. Conference speakers included Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

The Joint Agency Task Force (Task Force) was formed last April to address concerns about the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program and explore ways to strengthen the DHS and USDA partnership. The Task Force already has taken action that will have a significant impact on the AQI program.

To highlight,

  • In January, it created the AQI Partnership Council that includes State plant and animal health officials. The council will monitor and support progress on ten action plans and serve as a forum for innovation and improvement.
  • The Task Force has developed joint performance measures and is collecting data on all major pest and disease pathways. The data will help track trends on each pathway and measure the overall effectiveness of the AQI program and DHS' risk-based systems in identifying passengers, vehicles and cargo that are not in compliance when approaching ports of entry.
  • The Task Force has revised the guidelines for civil penalties for violating the Plant Protection Act. This will help ensure that USDA and DHS use common standards when issuing penalties.
  • Through the Task Force, USDA and DHS are working together on a transparent financial tracking system for AQI user fees that-among other things-will track appropriated funds used by both agencies. This will improve accountability and help ensure that AQI funding lines up with AQI activities.
  • APHIS has committed to work with CBP on creating a single, standardized portal for all international trade and transportation data collected and used by federal agencies.
  • And the Customs' International Trade Data System /Automated Commercial Environment project will replace the current patchwork of systems and will help identify and manage risk and better target inspection and enforcement efforts.

USDA APHIS develops the policies that determine what agricultural products can come into the country and what products pose a risk and should be kept out. DHS CBP enforces these agricultural policies at U.S. ports of entry. In fiscal year 2007, CBP seized more than 1.55 million prohibited meat or plant materials and 144,540 agricultural pests at ports of entry.

For information on the joint agency taskforce, go to: www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/aqi_mission.shtml. To learn more about the partnership council, go to: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/highlights/agriculture_partner.xml .