Ag Policy Blog

GAO Wants USDA to Better Reduce Risks of Bid Flu Outbreak

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Government Accountability Office has been taking a closer look lately at how USDA handles foreign animal diseases.

The GAO released a report Thursday looking at how USDA responded to the 2014 H5N2 highly-pathogenic avian influenza outbreak that led to the deaths of roughly 50 million commercial poultry due to the flu or euthanasia. The outbreak, considered the largest animal-disease outbreak in U.S. history, cost somewhere between $1 billion and $3.3 billion.

USDA reported 15 areas with lessons from the avian influenza outbreaks and came up with 308 corrective actions. The GAO found, however, that USDA has not evaluated the extent to which corrective actions have been completed. One problem, for instance, was the difficulty finding skilled people to cull the mass volumes of flocks. This led to delays and possibly spreading of the virus. So far, USDA hasn't worked to encourage states to identify teams or businesses that can quickly "depopulate" farms. The GAO noted USDA "does not have plans for doing so."

The GAO cited USDA needs to develop a plan for following through on its corrective actions. http://www.gao.gov/…

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee issued a news release about the GAO report, stating USDA needs to do more to reduce the risks of another bird flu outbreak. Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo., told The Washington Post, “We know the devastating impacts of a global pandemic. Now it’s up to the Department of Agriculture to make sure we are prepared and have a plan to combat this threat. Further, ensuring the effectiveness of their plans and procedures are just as important as the plans and procedures themselves.”

The report also dovetails into a push by the livestock industry to create and fund a vaccine bank in the 2018 farm bill so USDA could rapidly respond to livestock and poultry outbreaks.

The GAO report also comes just weeks after the office analyzed USDA's evaluation of foreign animal health systems. http://www.gao.gov/…

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