WITH the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency overseeing the release of vaccines for use in animal health — particularly for poultry, cattle and swine — furloughed its employees, meaning serials (batches) of vaccines could not be released.
Three national poultry trade groups sent a letter to congressional officials Oct. 4 urging a reinstatement of funding for the Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB), which is part of the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. The poultry groups said the agency planned on re-evaluating its furlough status after 14 days.
"Two weeks of stalled vaccine delivery will directly impact food safety, animal health and biosecurity," National Chicken Council president Mike Brown, National Turkey Federation president Joel Brandenberger and U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn. president John Starkey warned in their joint letter. "The animal health industry cannot wait that long.
"Because producers hold a limited supply of these vaccines, many of the large poultry, swine and cattle companies will be out of critical vaccines in a matter of days," they added. "Once they run out, they will be faced with tough decisions, including not vaccinating their flocks or herds and shutting down production and furloughing their own employees."
The poultry groups explained that every time a company produces a batch of vaccine, it sends an analysis of that batch and samples to CVB, which then approves the release of the batch of product into the marketplace for commercial sale. This is known as "serial release."
During previous government shutdowns, this has been deemed an essential service as these products play a crucial role in the protection of animal health and directly affect food safety and public health, the groups explained. However, the current USDA interpretation did not include serial release as an essential service.
"Animal health vaccine release is an essential activity. With the far-ranging impact on food safety, human health and animal health, we are seriously concerned about the disregard of this fundamental understanding. We ask that appropriate funding be allocated immediately so there are no interruptions at CVB," the poultry groups' letter concluded.
By last Tuesday, USDA apparently changed course and allowed some CVB staff to return to work, according to the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) and the poultry groups.
AVMA praised Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his decision Oct. 8 to deem certain CVB employees as "excepted."
AVMA noted that only the CVB employees who are directly responsible for testing and releasing animal vaccines into the marketplace have been called back to work.
"We always emphasize that healthy food starts with healthy animals, and allowing veterinarians to have access to critical vaccines is an important preventive measure that must continue even in the midst of the federal government shutdown," AVMA chief executive officer Dr. Ron DeHaven said. "I applaud Secretary Vilsack for re-evaluating the merits of this program and having the foresight to appreciate its importance to ensuring a safe and affordable food supply for Americans."