Citing the “extremely troubling precedent” being set, 22 national, regional and state agricultural producer, commodity and agribusiness organizations have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take immediate action to restore official grain inspection and weighing services at the Port of Vancouver, Wash.
In a recent letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other key administration officials, the organizations cited a July 1 notice by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) stating that it no longer would fulfill its obligation to provide official grain inspection and weighing services at the Pacific Northwest port. The port is being picketed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) as part of an ongoing labor dispute. WSDA had been delegated the responsibility to provide official grain inspection and weighing services at the port by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).
Several of the organizations had met last October with GIPSA Administrator Larry Mitchell and other USDA officials to urge that the agency prepare contingency plans to ensure an “immediate and effective” program to continue official services at the port after several previous interruptions in service occurred after WSDA inspectors were ordered by WSDA officials to cease inspections. In the July 1 notice stating that it was suspending official inspection services indefinitely, effective July 7, the director of WSDA’s grain inspection program stated as one of the reasons the belief that the “continued provision of inspection services appears to have been unhelpful in leading to any foreseeable resolution” of the labor dispute.
“To our knowledge, this latest announcement by a designated state agency declining to provide official services is unprecedented,” the groups wrote in their letter to Vilsack. “We believe WSDA’s actions create an extremely troubling precedent that will cause irreparable damage to the integrity and reliability of the nation’s official grain inspection system.”
The organizations also cited the “uncertainty” already created within the U.S. grain export industry, as well as among U.S. agricultural producers and international buyers of U.S. commodities, regarding potential future disruptions of official services at facilities operating at other U.S. export ports. “The disruptions that already have occurred have put at risk the United States’ reputation as a reliable supplier of grains and oilseeds to foreign customers,” the groups wrote. “In the absence of WSDA’s reliable performance of its duties, FGIS must intervene and make the necessary arrangements to provide the mandatory official (inspection) services.”
Federal law prohibits the export of U.S. grains and oilseeds unless officially inspected and weighed by official personnel in accordance with the U.S. grain standards. In addition, such exports are required to be accompanied by official certificates showing the official grade designation and certified weight, unless the requirement is waived by the secretary of agriculture and the grain is not sold or exported by grade. Under the U.S. Grain Standards Act, Congress vested in USDA the responsibility and obligation to provide official inspection services to facilitate efficient and cost-effective marketing of U.S. grains and oilseeds.
“To this point, confidence that the U.S. official grain inspection system will function in a continuous and consistent manner – and not be subject to unwarranted disruptions – has been instrumental in facilitating the ability of U.S. farmers and agribusinesses to reliably serve foreign customers and remain competitive in world markets,” the groups wrote in the letter to Vilsack, adding that the system has been a model of integrity. “But the recent decision by WSDA and the subsequent inaction to this point of FGIS to fulfill its (statutory) mandate to provide official inspection services risks sullying that hard-earned reputation, to the long-lasting detriment of U.S. agriculture. It also sends a dangerous signal to any third-party that might wish to disrupt U.S. grain export trade.”
National organizations signing the letter to Vilsack were: Agricultural Retailers Association; American Farm Bureau Federation; American Soybean Association; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Corn Growers Association; National Grain and Feed Association; National Oilseed Processors Association; North American Export Grain Association; Transportation, Elevator and Grain Merchants Association; U.S. Grains Council; U.S. Soybean Export Council; and U.S. Wheat Associates.
State and regional organizations signing the letter were: Idaho Grain Producers, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, Montana Grain Growers Association, North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Oregon Wheat Growers League, South Dakota Grain and Feed Association, South Dakota Wheat Inc., Pacific Northwest Grain and Feed Association, and Washington Association of Wheat Growers.
To read the entire letter, click here.