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USDA Reassures Congress About Preparedness for Bird Flu

posted on May 12, 2006

Congress appears to be in no mood to tamper with the tariff on ethanol imports, in part, because some of the farm state lawmakers who support it are among the most powerful on Capitol Hill. Any change in the tax must be approved by the Senate Finance Committee which is chaired by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. House Speaker Dennis Hastert represents Illinois ... home of the nation's largest ethanol producer, Archer Daniels Midland. Nevertheless, with demand for ethanol outpacing current domestic supply, it's easy to understand why Brazil, the world's leading ethanol producer, sees a lucrative market in the United States. Brazil also tripled its poultry production over the past few years and surpassed the U.S. as the world's top chicken exporter. Meanwhile the Brazilian government is spending millions to prepare the industry and the nation to fight Avian Flu. So far, both North and South America have avoided the threat of the potentially deadly virus. But U.S. officials are concerned about the threat. This week, USDA outlined its plans to keep America safe.

USDA Reassures Congress About Preparedness for Bird Flu

Worldwide, the Avian flu virus has accounted for the death or slaughter of million of birds and caused more than 100 human deaths. The bird flu strain H5N1 – which is an animal health issue, not a human flu pandemic -- has yet to hit American shores.

However, the U.S. Congress wants assurances from the USDA the country is prepared if it does.

Ron DeHaven, USDA: "The implementation Plan takes the major components of the President's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and breaks them down into more than 300 critical actions."

Ron DeHaven, Administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, says among the U.S. initiatives is to support the coordinated efforts overseas to slow the spread of bird flu in poultry ... expand domestic surveillance and early warning systems ... and ensure a guide for a swift, decisive response to any eventual detection of H5N1 strain in American poultry.

Ron DeHaven, USDA: "We have a cadre of 450 specially trained veterinarians who will be on site within four hours to conduct an initial examination and submit samples for additional laboratory testing."

As for preventative measures being taken in the private sector, Tyson Foods, this week said its 67-hundred poultry farms in the U.S. have been under "code yellow" precautions for several months. "Code Yellow" includes banning nonessential visitors from the farms. It is the company's second highest stage of security before "code red" – which would call for a virtual lockdown in health emergencies.

While industry and government may be preparing for the worst case scenario, they are also trying to not create a panic.

Ron DeHaven, USDA: "We want to inform while not alarming."


Tags: agriculture animals birds Congress diseases government influenza news USDA