Scientists along with state and federal agencies presented data and their concerns about potential foreign species that could be invasive and harmful to the United States. House Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) held the hearing yesterday (Oct. 7).

"It is my hope that today's hearing will lead to a renewed commitment to combat this growing problem in an era of increased and expanded trade," says Goodlatte. His concern is that a variety of state and federal laws administered by a wide range of agencies deal with the types of invasive species that could pose a threat to U.S. agriculture. The system lacks continuity. Most noteably, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is charged with the biggest task, however, there is inadequate funding and coordination at all levels of government, argues Goodlatte.

"Successfully combating this problem will require coordinated action by all affected stakeholders, which may include Federal, State, and local governments, private landowners, and nongovernmental organizations," he notes. "Research into efficient, effective inspection, exclusion and eradication strategies is vital."

Goodlatte assembled a display of invasive species provided by The Smithsonian, U.S. Geologic Survey, USDA's APHIS, among others. Invasive species are non-native species of plants, animals and pests that cause harm to human health, the environment or the economy. A few examples include:

  • West Nile virus now threatens people and animals in 42 states and the District of Columbia, transmitted by an aggressive and adaptable mosquito species that arrived inside rubber tires imported from Asia. Related U.S. deaths this year has risen to 94.
  • The Asian longhorned beetle, which probably arrived in solid wood pallets from China, destroys valuable trees in urban areas and threatens millions of acres hardwoods in national forests.
  • Citrus canker disease has destroyed citrus groves in Florida.
  • The glassy-winged sharpshooter, an invasive insect carries with it a plant bacterium that has caused nearly $40 million in losses of California grapes, plus nearly $35 billion yearly costs to grape, raisin and wine industries– and the tourism associated with those industries.
  • Foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious animal disease has cost British companies $30 billion dollars. Small businesses have lost on average $75,000 and larger ones have lost approximately $300,000.

These species represent a serious threat to American agriculture, forestry, and ecosystems, says Goodlatte. Society also pays a price for these harmful species including unemployment, damaged goods and equipment, power failures, food and water shortages, environmental degradation, increased rates and severity of natural disasters and disease epidemics.

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture