WASHINGTON — Policy improvements have been suggested that could make the U.S. grain inspection and weighing system more reliable, competitive and cost-effective.
The National Grain and Feed Association (N.G.F.A.) made the recommendations during a July 31 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act (U.S.G.S.A.).
“…(Our) legislative recommendations to amend the U.S.G.S.A. will strengthen the official inspection and weighing system, foster the competitive position of U.S. grains and oilseeds in world markets, and maintain the integrity of official inspection results,” said Bruce Sutherland, president of Michigan Agriculture Commodities in Lansing Michigan, U.S., who testified on N.G.F.A.’s behalf.
Mr. Sutherland is a member of the N.G.F.A. board of directors and serves as a recently appointed member of the Federal Grain Inspection Service’s (F.G.I.S.) Grain Inspection Advisory Committee. The N.G.F.A.’s recommendations were developed in collaboration with the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA), with which it is co-located and has a strategic alliance.
Reforms enacted by Congress in 2015 “served as a springboard” for a series of improvements to F.G.I.S. and the official inspection system, Mr. Sutherland said. He also credited Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s decision as part of his 2017 reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to return the F.G.I.S. to the Agricultural Marketing Service.
The N.G.F.A. offered several recommendations for improvement:
• The F.G.I.S. should expressly prohibit the inappropriate and misleading practice of using grain standard quality factors as an indicator of plant health risk on phytosanitary certificates issued by the U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
“APHIS inappropriately and unwisely in our view acquiesced in late December 2017 to Chinese officials’ requests that foreign material content — a grain quality factor — be used as a proxy for weed seed content in U.S. soybean export shipments,” Mr. Sutherland noted. The resulting market uncertainty led to a sharp reduction in U.S. soybean exports to China months before the advent of tariffs.
• Delegated states should be required to notify users of official inspection or weighing services at least 72 hours in advance of any intent to discontinue service.
• The F.G.I.S. should conduct a detailed review of the current geographic boundaries for each officially designated agency operating in the domestic market, something that hasn’t been done since 1976.
• F.G.I.S. user fees paid by those obtaining inspection and weighing services should be directed solely for that purpose, not for developing the U.S. grain standards or for compliance and enforcement activities, which have broad societal benefits to producers and consumers.
• Extending the reauthorization period for the U.S.G.S.A. to somewhere between 5 and 10 years, versus the current five-year schedule — at Congress’s discretion, “given the extremely positive changes brought about by Congress in revising the U.S.G.S.A. in 2015, combined with the highly successful reorganization and realignment of F.G.I.S. into A.M.S.”
• The F.G.I.S. should be required to report to Congress and the public the number of and specific type(s) of waivers from official inspection and weighing service being requested and granted, the number of non-use of service exceptions requested and granted, and the number of specific testing services requested, while preserving confidential business information.
• The F.G.I.S. Grain Inspection Advisory Committee should be reauthorized.
The N.G.F.A. concluded that “reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act on time — or even a bit early — would provide continued certainty to grain handlers, farmers and our global customers.”