McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Ushered through this week by a South Texas congressman is a bill that will help to safeguard U.S. agriculture and crops by providing more produce inspectors at border ports of entry. The measure has passed both chambers of Congress and it is expected to be signed by President Trump.

The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday night, months after it had passed the Senate. The measure has had wide bipartisan support, including that of 12 Republican governors.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, sponsored the House bill.

The measure will allow for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire an additional 240 new agriculture specialists and 200 agriculture technicians until port inspector staffing is up to appropriate levels. It also allows for the addition of 20 agriculture canine teams over the next three years “to prevent the introduction of harmful pests and foreign animal disease from entering the United States,” Vela’s office said.

“My district relies on trade and agriculture, so ensuring that these Texas economic sectors remain secure from pests and foreign animal diseases was a priority for me. The hardworking agriculture specialists and technicians at our ports of entry must have the resources they need to keep our country safe, and this legislation ensures that our ports of entry are appropriately staffed to carry out essential agriculture quarantine inspections. I worked across the aisle and with my counterparts in the Senate to ensure that we got this bill passed in both chambers and I’m proud of the work we have accomplished,” Vela told Border Report on Tuesday.

Vela said safeguarding U.S. agriculture is crucial — generating $1 trillion annually in economic activity.

Inspectors are critical to helping uphold the Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Program, which is jointly administered by CBP and the USDA to ensure that unwanted insects and invasive pests and foreign animal diseases like African swine fever, as well as illegal Valentine’s Day flowers, don’t enter U.S. soil, lawmakers said.

“The agricultural industry is an indispensable sector of our national economy,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of The Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “Robust staffing within U.S. Customs and Border Protection to protect the U.S. food supply is essential.  This bill will help ensure that we have enough agriculture inspectors in place to perform the critical mission of keeping our citizens – and the agriculture industry – secure.”

“The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act authorizes the crucial resources to help protect districts like mine. Rural America can’t afford another disaster and we need to do everything we can to prevent these pests and diseases from impacting our farm and rural economies,” Agriculture Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement.

This is especially necessary during holidays, like this week’s Valentine’s Day, when travelers tend to try to bring in items that could hurt our food supply, crops or economy.

While roses are the most common flower legally brought in, choysia, the green filler flowers often found in rose bouquets, are not legal and can hurt U.S. crops, CBP officials said.

Chrysanthemums also are forbidden to be carried in at U.S. ports of entry. Here is a CBP link to a list of agricultural rules.

CBP agriculture specialists in South Texas “play a critical role in preventing invasive plant pest and diseases from entering the U.S. as they encounter millions of cut flower stems in advance of the Valentine’s Day holiday,” said CBP Director of Field Operations Randy Howe of the Laredo Field Office. “These inspections help protect American agriculture and preserve the economic security of the nation’s floral industry as well.”

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