Groups ask for full lab funding during bird flu crisis

Full funding from Congress needed for increased staffing and integrated communication systems during outbreak.

Across the Midwest, farmers and producers in 16 states are grappling with the deadly impacts that the avian influenza virus is having on their poultry. Now, more than a dozen national animal health organizations have teamed up, calling upon Congress and the Obama administration to fully fund a lab network that could help.

The National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) - a vital, early-warning disease surveillance program that gives veterinarians and scientists the ability to test for economically devastating diseases, such as mad cow disease and avian and swine influenza, which could impact public health—is tasked with the responsibility of testing thousands of samples from poultry farms all along the Mississippi corridor to help identify and stop the spread of avian influenza. Unfortunately, running national laboratories around-the-clock requires increased staffing and integrated communications systems, which may not be possible without full funding from Congress.

Late Monday, 15 organizations, urged Congress to fully fund the NAHLN in its fiscal 2016 budget and “provide every resource necessary to tackle this and future animal disease outbreaks.” It is essential that these labs get the resources they need to curtail the outbreak of the avian flu before it continues its eastward spread and drastically impacts the food supply.

 “Congress authorized a new budget line of $15 million for the NAHLN as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Full funding for this program is absolutely critical because when large-scale animal disease outbreaks occur—such as what we are experiencing now with highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) and last year with porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV)—tracking the progress and performing diagnostic tests on thousands of diagnostic samples requires surge capacity, ample staffing, and integrated communications systems,” the letter stated.

As of April 20, there were more than 13,800 tests performed by 13 NAHLN labs with hundreds of tests being performed daily, seven days a week. Since Dec. 14, high pathogenic avian influenza has spread from Washington state eastward and is now present in 16 states.

Many diagnostic laboratories have reached capacity and need additional resources now. Millions of turkeys and chickens have been afflicted and producer’s livelihoods are at stake, the letter added. “This disease has immediate ramifications for the poultry industry and may dramatically impact the availability of poultry products in the United States for the foreseeable future if Congress does not act now.”

The avian influenza virus has the ability to impact millions of poultry if its spread is not stopped. “As we saw with the PEDv last year, any disease outbreak of that magnitude can have catastrophic impacts on not only the animals that are afflicted, but on the livelihoods of farmers and the cost of meat and dairy products,” explained Gina Luke, assistant director of the American Veterinary Medical Assn.’s governmental relations division.

The AVMA has advocated for full funding of the NAHLN each congressional budget cycle because of the lab network’s impact on promoting animal and public health and reducing any interruptions to the U.S. food supply.

Other groups that signed on to the letter included the National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council, American Assn. of Swine Veterinarians, North American Meat Institute, National Pork Producers Council, National Assn. of Federal Veterinarians, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, United Egg Producers, American Assn. of Avian Pathologists, U.S. Animal Health Assn., American Assn. of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, American Feed Industry Assn. and U.S. Poultry and Egg Assn.

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