Audit: USDA Lacks Comprehensive Bird Flu Detection Plan

Today's edition of The New York Times reported that an audit found that the USDA relied too heavily on voluntary testing by the poultry industry and reports from state agriculture departments.

A spokeswoman for the department, Hallie Pickhardt, was quoted as saying the that the department "agreed with everything in the report, and we're either doing it or going to be doing it."

Pickhardt added that the USDA was not planning to make the voluntary testing now conducted by the poultry industry mandatory.

"We're confident in the testing procedure they're implementing," Pickhardt said. "They've been working very closely with us. This is their livelihood, too, and they have no reason not to report the information."

According to published reports, Pickhardt said the department will supplement the voluntary testing with its own checks.

The audit also recommended more testing in live-bird markets (where mild avian flu infections have been found in the past) and at illegal auctions of fighting gamecocks. It also called for a plan to protect workers with vaccines and flu drugs if infected flocks needed to be culled.

In January, the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, said that its members, which produce more than 90% of the country's chickens, would test every flock for influenza two weeks before slaughter.

USDA TRAINS FOREIGN SCIENTISTS In a related matter, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron DeHaven announced two days ago that it is training of 24 scientists from 19 countries on diagnostic testing for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). It is the third in a series of train-the-trainers workshops on HPAI testing and diagnostics. The session concludes Friday.

"This is just one example of how we are working to prevent or slow the spread of high pathogencity avian influenza," said DeHaven. "The goal is to assist senior-level veterinarians and poultry disease experts from countries that either have discovered HPAI, or are at high risk for the disease. When they return to their countries, they are better equipped to train their colleagues in lab procedures and protocols."

The 24 participants come from countries that have requested USDA technical assistance in HPAI testing and diagnostics. Countries participating include Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Mozambique, Oman, Pakistan, Romania, Sudan, Taiwan, Uganda, and Uruguay.

Similar to the previous workshops, training will include hands-on lab exercises and lectures from USDA experts. The first, held from Feb. 27-March 3, had 25 participants from Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Georgia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Morocco, Philippines, Romania, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The second, held from May 15-19, had 26 participants from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ghana, India, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Serbia-Montenegro, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

The workshops are a joint effort of Iowa State University and USDA's Agricultural Research Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Foreign Agricultural Service.

INDONESIA HOSTS BIRD FLU MEETING Meanwhile, Indonesia, which has been the site of 39 human fatalities attributed bird flu, is hosting a three-day meeting on combating bird flu, reported the Voice of America today. The conference aims to address criticism from international donors of Indonesia's plans for fighting the disease. The country has appealed to aid organizations and other countries for $900 million to pay for bird vaccines, public education, and mass poultry culling programs.

The World Bank recently said it needed to see a detailed plan before it would commit funding. However, there are some areas where Jakarta is making progress. Paul Gully, a WHO senior adviser at the conference, said Indonesia is providing good surveillance for the disease, and has been able to report outbreaks quickly.

While many experts have advocated killing all birds exposed to the virus, even those that are still healthy, Indonesia has resisted mass culling because of the cost of compensating the birds' owners, who often depend on their poultry for income or family meals.

The group is scheduled to meet through Friday, and is expected to draft a joint assessment of the country's anti-bird flu measures and a list of recommendations on how the country can strengthen its efforts.


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