Improvements Needed in Department of Agriculture's Certification That Export Shipments of Grain Conform With Phytosanitary Regulations of Foreign Countries

CED-80-42: Published: Dec 28, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 28, 1979.

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The International Plant Protection Convention provides for international cooperation in controlling insects injurious to plant production and preventing the international spread of insects. Under this convention, plant products offered for export are inspected and phytosanitary certificates attesting that the plants are insect free are issued. The Department of Agriculture is responsible for the inspection program. A GAO review of the program indicated that the certificates lacked credibility because products were not adequately inspected and officials lacked up-to-date information on all of the importing countries' requirements.

Insect infestation has been one of the most prevalent complaints foreign buyers have made about the U.S. grain they receive. The phytosanitary certificates certify that the grain has been thoroughly examined, yet at four port offices visited by GAO, grain was not directly examined. The other two offices visited issued certificates based on their own limited inspections. No specific guidelines on how much grain should be examined, the method by which such grain should be selected, or the infestation criteria to be followed had been establiahws. Summaries of quarantine import regulations of foreign countries were distributed to certifying officials and exporters, but no systematic procedure for assuring that the summaries were correct and up-to-date had been established. Port officials sometimes certified that a shipment was fumigated without witnessing or otherwise verifying that the grain was actually treated. There was no systematic control over the phytosanitary certificate forms.

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