GAO: USDA may not be doing enough to prevent bird flu outbreaks

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office said it does not know if the U.S. Agriculture Department is doing enough to protect consumers and poultry from a possible avian influenza outbreak, according to NBC News.
  • In a report, the GAO said the USDA is making a mistake by relying on poultry producers to voluntarily follow security guidelines as many are not doing everything they are supposed to do to protect their flocks.
  • Nearly 50 million birds died or were killed in the H5N2 avian flu outbreak that spread to several states in 2014 and 2015. This outbreak cost the U.S. economy somewhere between $1 billion to $3.3 billion.

Dive Insight:

Avian flu outbreaks in 2014 and 2016 killed millions of birds. Just in the past few months, there have already been a number of new avian flu scares

The USDA has already taken steps to address lessons learned from its response to previous outbreaks, including encouraging states to form response teams. Still, the department doesn't have a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts. The GAO, the independent investigative arm of Congress, has asked the USDA to create such a plan.

In its report, the GAO notes that only one dependable manufacturer in the U.S. is capable of making a vaccine if a serious avian influenza pandemic ever made its way into the country, a problem that also needs to be addressed.

One of the problems with the safeguards in place, many believe, is it does not deal with wild birds. Many of those following the problem believe wild birds from Asia carry the viruses and spread them to the U.S. A bird surveillance program run jointly by the USDA and the Department of the Interior discovered more than 88,000 wild birds carried a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza of the same lineage that caused the recent outbreaks of 2014 and 2016.

Following this year's first report of bird flu, many of the top poultry producers were quick to respond. Reuters reported that Pilgrim’s Pride, the world’s second-largest chicken producer, “immediately activated [avian influenza] response plans and heightened on-farm biosecurity programs at all Pilgrim's facilities.” Additionally, Sanderson Farms cracked down on the movement of people and vehicles into its facilities.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Food Safety Meat / Protein
Top image credit: skeeze