Soy growers call for ‘mandatory and continuous’ grain inspections

Farm Forum

American Soybean Association (ASA) Director Bill Gordon, of Minnesota, testified in Washington in the first week of May, calling on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee to help ensure that grain inspections under the Grain Standards Act remain both mandatory and continuous, even in the event of a work stoppage due to strike or lockout.

Gordon’s statement comes as Congress weighs reauthorization of the Grain Standards Act of 1976, under which official inspections are required for all export shipments. His testimony was supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Barley Growers Association. In the testimony, ASA indicated that, while most provisions subject to reauthorization before October 2015 are non-controversial, it is critically important for Congress to resolve outstanding questions about whether and when the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) is required to step in when inspection services are withdrawn by delegated state agencies.

The focus of the statement, and the hearing, was on the suspension of inspections and exports due to a labor-management dispute at the Port of Vancouver last July and August, when the Washington State Department of Agriculture suspended service for 36 days. ASA and 21 other farm and industry organizations sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in July asking for FGIS to immediately take over inspections. The department responded that it would not do so, citing safety concerns.

The Grain Standards Act requires FGIS to assume responsibility when inspection services are disrupted, but allows discretion over the length of time before action is taken. ASA and other farm organizations stated that services should be restored “in hours, not days or weeks,” and pointed out that USDA still has not clarified its responsibilities or announced a contingency plan for dealing with any future disruptions since last August. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and other members of the Committee made clear their intention to resolve this issue, either by obtaining appropriate guarantees from USDA or through legislative action in the reauthorization process.