USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service does not have a comprehensive surveillance plan for avian influenza and is not able to target resources to areas of greatest concern, according to a report released Tuesday by USDA's Inspector General.
The extent of testing for the disease varies from state to state, and because APHIS does not have adequate information on testing by states and industry, it cannot know the extent to which U.S. poultry is being monitored for highly pathogenic avian influenza.
"The federal government continues to push the responsibility of finding and responding to a possible outbreak of avian influenza on states," states Sen. Tom Harkin, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member. "As a result, USDA does not have a comprehensive national plan for surveillance and monitoring of poultry flocks and states lack adequate federal resources to respond to potential avian influenza outbreaks."
In addition, the report found that APHIS does not properly document follow-up actions taken after a potential case of avian influenza is identified, nor has it issued protocols for handling potential avian influenza cases involving live bird markets or non-commercial poultry activities.
Another weakness identified is that USDA fails to provide an avian influenza response plan on how vaccines and anti-virals will be administered to animal health care workers involved in culling operations after an outbreak occurs.
In IG's management alert, it recommended that APHIS develop and implement a comprehensive AI surveillance plan and perform and document an analysis that identifies any gaps in sampling surveillance and assesses risk as a basis for determining the need for additional sampling. In response, APHIS provided a strategy for developing a comprehensive plan. The report states APHIS should update its response to include details of how the inventory of current surveillance systems will be developed and revised timeframes for project completion.
USDA's Inspector General also recommended that APHIS needs to coordinate with the Farm Service Agency and the States to develop and formalize producer notification and action procedures when an outbreak of AI occurs, to include identification of the roles and responsibilities of personnel involved, specific timeframes for action, and linkage to the Standard Operating Procedures set forth in the Response Plan.
Funding on its way
APHIS notes that the audit was performed prior to the receipt AI supplemental funding allocated by Congress to APHIS in fiscal year 2006. APHIS states the supplemental funding is currently being used to enhance its surveillance and diagnostics, preparedness, and response and wild bird surveillance programs.
Additionally, a portion of this funding is also being used to fund international efforts designed to help prevent the spread of HPAI into the United States.
USDA's OIG report can be found online at www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33099-11-HY.pdf.