The National Chicken Council and United Egg Producers have urged Congress to leave the principal functions of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture rather than transferring the entire agency to the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
“Most APHIS activities are involved in service to agriculture and have little or nothing to do with homeland security as we understand it,” C.W. “Bill” McMillan, a consultant who was assistant secretary of agriculture for marketing and inspection services (including APHIS) in the Reagan Administration, said in testimony for NCC and UEP to the House Committee on Agriculture. “These functions should remain within the department that is most oriented to agriculture, that is, the USDA.”
The testimony of NCC and UEP made it clear that they support establishment of a Department of Homeland Security and commended President Bush for “taking the first steps to create a unified, focused agency to deal with this critical mission.” However, the poultry associations told members of the House Agriculture Committee that the question before them is “how this mission can best be achieved, and what functions and agencies of the federal government should be contributed to the new department to maximize its effectiveness.”
“Some of the border functions provided by APHIS should be made immediately available to the new Department of Homeland Security, where those functions can be coordinated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Customs Service,” McMillan said. “There are many intra-governmental mechanisms through which assignment or even partial transfer of expertise and resources can readily be accomplished without necessarily altering a well-established and still essential regulatory structure.”
McMillan noted that APHIS handles a wide range of duties ranging from inspection and quarantine of imported plants and animals to protect against foreign pests and diseases to enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act in zoos and circuses, issuance of permits for the development of new biotech plant varieties, and oversight of the National Poultry Improvement Plan, which certifies the disease-free status of breeding stock.
“APHIS is already deeply involved in border control and every month seizes hundreds of pounds of plant and animal materials that is being brought into the country in inadvertent violation of regulations,” McMillan said. “Its expertise in this area will be of great service to the Department of Homeland Security. Its function as the guardian of zoo animals would not.”
He said putting other APHIS functions into DHS would blur the new department’s focus on homeland security and hamper the interagency cooperation on agricultural issues that is now readily available because APHIS is within the Department of Agriculture.
NCC is a national trade association representing the producer/processors of 95 percent of the broiler-fryer chickens marketed in the United States. UEP is a farmer cooperative whose members account for more than 80 percent of U.S. shell egg production.