Protection Against Agricultural Diseases is Overdue

Nearly one year after the Government Accountability Office found significant gaps that could allow agricultural diseases into the U.S., a report released Friday by the offices of the Inspector General for both the Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security confirmed our ports and border are still porous. The offices released a report citing 13 recommendations that would defend the border and ports of entry from dangerous foreign pests and diseases such as the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza and foot and mouth disease. While some recommendations from this report have been implemented, USDA and DHS should implement all of them immediately.

The GAO study found many gaps in the system, which could allow these diseases to enter unintentionally through passengers or cargo, illegal smuggling of agricultural products, or intentionally by terrorists seeking to damage U.S. agriculture and the nation's food supply. I had requested the GAO audit in 2005 in response to concerns that coordination between the departments was inadequate and the number of trained agricultural inspectors was lacking.

The threat of diseases like avian flu is very real and continues to plague our country.

This report shows we are still lacking coordination in our efforts to secure particularly vulnerable areas. We’ve seen the devastating consequences that can result from departments of the federal government failing to share information with one another. It’s critical we avoid similar mistakes in securing our border from potentially deadly and costly biological threats.