WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. —  The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) on May 5 urged the U.S. Congress to strengthen the official grain inspection and weighing system as it considers reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act this year.

In testimony presented at a hearing conducted by the Senate Agriculture Committee, NGFA Grain Grades and Weights Committee member Tim Paurus, assistant vice-president of terminal operations for CHS Inc., Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, U.S., urged Congress to make several changes to enhance the reliability and cost-effectiveness of the U.S. official grain inspection system. The hearing focused on legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Grain Standards Act (USGSA), several of whose key provisions expire on Sept. 30.

Specifically, the NGFA urged that in response to the frequent, intermittent disruptions in official inspection and weighing service by the Washington State Department of Agriculture at the Port of Vancouver, Washington, U.S., during 2013-14, existing language in the U.S. Grain Standards Act should be strengthened to reiterate the obligation of the secretary of agriculture to restore official inspection and weighing service promptly in the event of any future disruptions, except in cases of cataclysmic national emergencies or natural disasters. 

Under the U.S. Grain Standards Act, most U.S. grain and oilseed exports traded under the U.S. grain standards are required to be officially inspected and weighed by either the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) inspectors, or by personnel working for state agencies to which FGIS delegates its inspection authority at export elevators.

"Make no mistake, U.S. foreign buyers took note of this very visible and extreme disruption, which damaged the reputation of FGIS, undermined confidence of international buyers in the reliability of the U.S. official grain inspection system and raised alarm over whether this could be repeated at other U.S. export ports," Paurus testified.  "NGFA believes that an accurate, timely and cost-effective delivery of mandated, impartial and federally managed official inspection services administered by FGIS can and should remain the cornerstone of a viable and market-responsive U.S. grain inspection and weighing system.  To maintain respect and relevance, the U.S. system...needs to function in a continuous, predictable and consistent manner to facilitate the ability of U.S. farmers and agribusinesses to reliably serve foreign customers and remain competitive in world markets."

NGFA also urged that Congress consider directing FGIS to license and utilize, under FGIS oversight, qualified personnel employed by independent third-party entities to perform official inspection and weighing services at export elevators through existing provisions contained in the U.S. Grain Standards Act, particularly in cases if and when disruptions in official service occur. 

In its testimony, the NGFA said it strongly supports reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act to improve and maintain the U.S. official grain inspection and weighing system, and offered several other recommendations to achieve that objective:
• Transparency in delegating official inspection authority: NGFA urged Congress to require that USDA make its process for delegating official inspection authority to state agencies at export facilities more transparent and subject to public comment. 
• Designated agencies performing official inspections in domestic market.
• User fees: The NGFA urged that FGIS be required to base the tonnage component of its export inspection user fees on a fluctuating and more market-responsive five-year rolling average.
• Reauthorization period:  NGFA recommended that reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act be reduced to five years from the current 10-year period.

"NGFA and NAEGA believe that our recommendations...will help strengthen the official inspection and weighing system, enhance the competitive position of U.S. grains and oilseeds in world markets, and retain the integrity of U.S. inspection results." Paurus said. "Our industry pledges to work with Congress to craft policies that achieve these positive outcomes."