The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Jan. 14 that examines federal actions, particularly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to address outbreaks of swine enteric coronavirus diseases (SECD).
GAO said it was asked to examine: (1) the initial response to the SECD outbreaks, (2) USDA's subsequent actions to manage SECD and (3) steps USDA has taken to improve its future response to emerging animal diseases.
For the report, GAO analyzed USDA efforts to collect data about the number and location of infected herds, reviewed federal regulations and USDA animal disease response guidance and interviewed USDA, state and industry stakeholders involved in the response and control efforts.
According to GAO, USDA "did not take regulatory action during the initial response to the outbreaks" of SECD beginning in May 2013, when an outbreak was first detected, because the agency did not believe then that such action was necessary. Instead, USDA initially supported swine industry-led efforts.
Without regulatory action, such as requiring reporting of infected herds, USDA had limited information about the location of the first infected herds. In addition, USDA officials acknowledged that the agency did not follow its guidance that calls for conducting epidemiological investigations at the onset of outbreaks, GAO said. As a result, USDA did not conduct timely investigations of the premises with the first infected herds, and the source of disease will likely never be determined.
In June 2014, amid concerns about the spread of SECD, USDA issued a federal order requiring reporting of newly infected herds. As a result, USDA has more accurate information about the number and location of such herds, and SECD has been confirmed in 28 U.S. states (Map). USDA also provided funding to help manage the diseases.
To help improve its future response to SECD and other emerging animal diseases — those not known to exist in the U.S. or that have changed to become a threat — USDA has drafted new guidance, GAO noted. However, USDA has not defined key aspects of its response, such as roles and responsibilities, which, according to its strategic plan, are key components of successful collaboration to protect animal health. Without a clearly defined response to such emerging animal diseases, response efforts could be slowed, the GAO report says.
GAO recommended that USDA develop a process to help ensure that its guidance for investigations of animal diseases is followed and that the agency clarify and document how it will respond to emerging diseases, including defining roles and responsibilities. USDA generally agreed with GAO's recommendations.
The full report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-132.