He said the measures for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) include border-specific efforts that could save businesses money and avoid wasted food.
When a truck carrying produce crosses the border, US Department of Agriculture inspectors or certified Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agriculture inspectors look at the contents.
If they find something of concern that cannot be identified on-site as non-threatening the inspector has to send it to the FDA or CDC in Washington, DC for further testing.
The truck is either held at the port, or sent on but unable to deliver produce, until testing has concluded and food is determined to be safe. In that time, agriculture shipments can spoil, costing businesses money and wasting food. More laboratory capacity at the border, especially on weekends and holidays, would speed this process.
International trade and ports of entry to Mexico are a major part of the economy in Laredo, which has the third biggest port of entry in the country.
Congressman Cuellar said the current system at the border is effective but can be inefficient.
“The imports that pass through our southern border port cities safely feed Americans all over the country. However, it can be inefficient, leading to wasted food and financial losses for our businesses.
“These directions to the FDA and CDC are to make our efforts even more efficient and effective, support the local health departments in port cities like those in my district, and continue to keep our families healthy and safe.”
Congressman Cuellar included language in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2017 directing the FDA to work with local governments at high-volume ports of entry, such as Laredo.
He directed the FDA to report on how pilot programs for public-private lab partnerships near high-volume ports of entry might increase capacity.
He also directed the CDC to provide the Appropriations Committee with an update on cross-border disease control efforts, including how they coordinate programs with state and local public health departments in high-volume port cities.
Dr Hector Gonzalez, director of health for the City of Laredo Health Department, said: “I appreciate Congressman Cuellar’s efforts to expand capacity and partner with local health authorities for food entry surveillance, enforcement and local laboratory testing to assure the safety of food passing through the US/Mexico Border and especially addressing illegal entry, which impacts not only local communities and local health departments but the nation.”