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APHIS asks for feedback

Yes, I know: APHIS stands for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. But whenever I see the acronym, I think of insects. In a way, that’s appropriate.

What does it do?

It “protects the health of U.S. agriculture and natural resources against invasive pests and diseases, regulates genetically engineered crops, administers the Animal Welfare Act, and helps people and wildlife coexist,” says its website. “APHIS also certifies the health of U.S. agricultural exports and resolves phytosanitary and sanitary issues to open, expand, and maintain markets for U.S plant and animal products.”

On June 2, APHIS released a new strategic plan and is calling for public comments.

Several of its goals relate directly to agriculture:

“Protect agriculture from plant and animal diseases and pests.”

“Maintain and expand the safe trade of agricultural products.”

“Manage wildlife damage and threats to agriculture, natural resources, property, and people.”

APHIS also regulates genetic engineering.

The report notes that increased globalization has created new sanitary and phytosanitary risks. The public is also showing an increased interest in animal welfare. Furthermore, “climate change’s impact on ecosystem and habitat characteristics will cause animal and pest populations to shift into new or expanded habitats.”

Other trends include increased security risks, more dependence on data analysis, and changes in production practices.

This is reasonably clear as it stands, although one ends up a bit confused about how it all plays out in practice.

Leafy greens, for example. APHIS deals with wildlife damage to crops. Bacterial contamination of greens to some extent has to do with wildlife (raccoons getting into a lettuce field), which is in APHIS’s bailiwick, but what about damage done by domestic animals (runoff from feedlots)? Is that an APHIS issue, or is somebody else supposed to handle that?

Many of the problems agriculture has with the federal government seems to have to do with divided responsibilities among agencies: APHIS, USDA as a whole, the Environmental Protection Agency, and so on. We could wish that these responsibilities were more clearly and plainly delineated.

In any event, the next month offers the opportunity to give feedback to APHIS about its current and future performance. The deadline for comments is July 1.

One contact: Sharla.M.Jennings@usda.gov

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.