With the Coronavirus in the news, now seems to be a good time to talk about disease defense and prevention. Coronaviruses are a family of zoonotic viruses (meaning transmitted between animals and humans) that can cause respiratory illness in humans. Experts believe the emerging worldwide outbreak may have begun when the virus was transmitted to humans by a pangolin, an animal resembling the armadillo. Of course, coronaviruses are not the only zoonotic diseases, and pangolins are not the only animals that can transmit diseases to people. Over the course of history, humans have contracted diseases from birds, pigs, bats and many other animals.

And diseases that afflict livestock can be economically devastating. Each year, the cost of foreign pests and diseases in the U.S. is estimated to reach into the tens of billions of dollars. Even a single disease can devastate an industry.

African Swine Fever, for instance, has wiped out nearly a third of Chinese pigs, causing the price of swine in China to increase by more than 100 percent in just one year. Countries in which the disease has been detected are subject to onerous trade restrictions intended to prevent further spread of the disease.

Given the risks, it is enormously important to take all reasonable measures to prevent the introduction and spread of any disease that threatens us or our food supply.

To that end, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019, which authorizes additional funding to prevent the introduction of animal diseases and pests into the United States. Specifically, the bipartisan legislation grants U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) the authority to hire, train and assign 200 new CBP Agriculture Technicians each fiscal year until the number of technicians meets the requirements set forth in CBP’s annual Mission and Operational Support Resource Allocation Model. Agricultural Specialists play a vital role in preventing the introduction of animal diseases into the U.S.

For obvious reasons, the legislation has received vigorous industry support. The sooner the legislation can make its way through the Senate and cross the president’s desk, the better. The threat of disease will likely only continue to worsen in years to come as new diseases emerge and existing diseases become more resistant to our countermeasures.

If we are to prevent the introduction of diseases that could devastate our economy, it is imperative that we provide CBP the tools they need, and soon. NP