New Homeland Security post will focus on agriculture

December 21, 2007

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has created a new post to oversee inspection of agriculture, amid fears it is being eclipsed by counter-terrorism.

The deputy executive director for agriculture operational oversight will be established within U.S. Customs and Border Protection as of Jan. 2, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

When Homeland Security was formed in 2003, it took over port inspections of imported food from the Department of Agriculture, and later merged the inspectors who carried them out with customs and immigration inspectors under the “one face at the border” program. But the move brought charges that the agricultural inspection function — deemed essential to keep aggressive pests and virulent plant diseases out of the country — was taking a back seat to efforts to secure the nation against terrorism. In the letter, Chertoff acknowledges these concerns and says the new official “will be charged with ensuring a more consistent application of agriculture inspection policy across all ports,” will serve as a single point of contact within CBP for other departments and agencies and for the private sector, and “will work to ensure” that agricultural inspectors “have the equipment and resources needed.”

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