Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is a multi-faceted Agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, which is to protect and promote food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues.
To protect agricultural health, APHIS is on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week working to defend America’s animal and plant resources from agricultural pests and diseases. For example, if the Mediterranean fruit fly and Asian longhorned beetle, two major agricultural pests, were left unchecked, they would result in several billions of dollars in production and marketing losses annually. Similarly, if foot-and-mouth disease or highly pathogenic avian influenza were to become established in the United States, foreign trading partners could invoke trade restrictions and producers would suffer devastating losses.
In the event that a pest or disease of concern is detected, APHIS implements emergency protocols and partners with affected States to quickly manage or eradicate the outbreak. This aggressive approach has enabled APHIS to successfully prevent and respond to potential pest and disease threats to U.S. agriculture.
To promote the health of U.S. agriculture in the international trade arena, APHIS develops and advances science-based standards with trading partners to ensure America’s agricultural exports, worth more than $50 billion annually, are protected from unjustified restrictions.
In response to needs expressed by the American people and Congress, APHIS’ mission has expanded over the years to include such issues as wildlife damage and disease management; regulation of genetically engineered crops and animal welfare; and protection of public health and safety as well as natural resources that are vulnerable to invasive pests and pathogens. While carrying out its diverse protection responsibilities, APHIS makes every effort to address the needs of all stakeholders involved in the U.S. agricultural sector.
The APHIS Strategic Plan outlines the goals, objectives, and performance measures that set the direction of APHIS’ work. By keeping this plan in mind as work is done and decisions are made, APHIS can be certain to carry out its mission.
Established in 1972, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is a relatively new Agency, but much of the important work that falls under its mission today has been the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for more than 100 years. In fact, for most of the 20th century, the early animal and plant health bureaus within USDA operated independently of one another. The creation of APHIS consolidated these functions. In the years since, the Agency has continued to expand its mission in order protect and preserve American agriculture.
The foundation for APHIS was built in 1883 when USDA's Commissioner established the Veterinary Division, the Department's first regulatory program. One year later, the Veterinary Division became the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI). Congress created the Bureau to promote livestock disease research, enforce animal import regulations, and regulate the interstate movement of animals. In the years to follow, positions were created within BAI to support inspection activities at U.S. ports of entry. Regulatory activities to protect U.S. crops began three decades later with the 1912 Plant Quarantine Act and the establishment of the Federal Horticultural Board to enforce the act. The Federal Horticultural Board was separated into various plant health bureaus in 1928.
In 1953 the functions of the BAI and the various plant health bureaus became part of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Under the ARS structure, plant and livestock responsibilities were located in either the research or regulatory division, depending on the nature of the activity.
Congress passed The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966 to provide for the regulation of warm blooded animals used in research, bred for commercial sale, exhibited to the public, or commercially transported. The law requires minimum standards of animal care to be established and enforced. Today, APHIS’ Animal Care program enforces the provisions of the AWA and the Horse Protection Act, which was passed by Congress in 1970.
In 1971, the animal and plant regulatory functions were separated from ARS to become an entity known as the Animal and Plant Health Services (APHS) and in 1972 the meat and poultry inspection divisions of the Consumer and Marketing Service (later known as the Agricultural Marketing Service) were added to APHS (putting the “I” into APHIS). This organizational realignment was intended to group functions that rely on similar professional disciplines together in one Agency. In 1977, however, the Food Safety and Quality Service was established and took responsibility for meat and poultry inspections. Today, that Agency is known as USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Within the APHIS structure, animal quarantine inspection activities at ports of entry were transferred from the Veterinary Services (VS) division to the Plant Protection division in 1974. As a result, the Plant Protection Division became Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ). In 2002 the majority of port inspection activities were transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection.
APHIS entered the Biotechnology era in 1985 when the Secretary of Agriculture designated APHIS as the agency responsible for regulating biotechnology-derived products that affect animal and plant health. In 1987 the Biotechnology and Environmental Coordination staff was established in order to perform this function within the Plant Protection and Quarantine program. In 2002, APHIS created the Biotechnology Regulatory Services program to place increased emphasis on our regulatory responsibilities for biotechnology.
In 1985 Congress also transferred the Animal Damage Control (ADC) program from the U.S. Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to APHIS, where it was later renamed Wildlife Services. This transfer enlarged the Agency, while adding a new facet of agricultural protection to the APHIS mission.
In 1987 APHIS’ international programs staff (within PPQ and VS) was given Foreign Service status, thereby increasing the influence of our personnel in the international arena. International programs staff from PPQ and VS were eventually combined to become the International Services (IS) program in APHIS. Today, IS is responsible for facilitating international trade and promoting international safeguarding.
APHIS’ ability to protect animal and plant health was further strengthened by the passage of the 2000 Plant Protection Act and the 2002 Animal Health Protection Act. Both laws consolidated and modernized previous animal and plant health statutes, giving APHIS more tools for safeguarding agriculture and responding to pest and disease threats.
While APHIS’ mission has remained essentially the same since its creation, the scope of agricultural issues the Agency oversees has grown exponentially. APHIS remains steadfast in its efforts to prevent the introduction of foreign pests and diseases and promote the health of U.S. agriculture. The Agency's experienced cadre of scientists, veterinarians, biologists and other professionals will continue to offer innovative solutions to meet the agricultural challenges of the 21st century.