U.S. should be better prepared for pests, diseases

NPPC testifies in front of House Homeland Security subcommittee on what more needs to be done to deal with foreign infestation or disease outbreak.

In testimony Friday, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) urged members of Congress to work with the Obama Administration to improve U.S. preparedness to deal with a foreign pest infestation or disease outbreak.

While improvements have been made over the years to the systems that safeguard U.S. agriculture, former Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administrator Bobby Acord, testifying on behalf of NPPC, told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security that much more needs to be done to prevent plant and animal pests and diseases from entering the country and devastating U.S. food producers.

Accord, who served as administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's APHIS from 2001 to 2004, told the subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response and communication that the introduction of foreign pests and diseases can have severe consequences for agricultural production, consumer prices and, potentially, food availability. They also could adversely affect U.S. exports, with foreign trading partners closing their markets to U.S. goods.

“There seems to be a growing consensus that there are serious flaws in the country’s preparedness to deal with threats to U.S. agriculture and the food supply,” Acord said.

A blue-ribbon panel last fall released a report on U.S. bio-defenses that highlighted the need for improvements in the system for protecting the U.S. livestock herd and the nation’s food supply, and concerns about the country’s preparedness to deal with foreign animal diseases were raised in a November hearing of the House Agriculture Committee.

Among actions NPPC suggested the federal government take to be better prepared to address a foreign pest infestation or disease outbreak are:

•           A sufficient quantity of vaccine to control and eradicate an outbreak of foot and mouth disease;

•           A more robust review of biosecurity measures in each sector of the agriculture industry;

•           More vigorous scrutiny of imports at ports of entry;

•           An animal identification system to better trace the movement of livestock to control the spread of a disease and to determine the origins of an outbreak;

•           More funding for the systems that safeguard U.S. agriculture, and

•           Sharing data, including on animal movements, to improve disease response.

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