Agricultural Secretary Mike Johanns provided an update yesterday on USDA's efforts to prepare for and protect the United States from highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza.



USDA has focused its efforts on four key areas: international efforts, wild bird monitoring, domestic poultry monitoring and avian influenza research.



Following are highlights of these efforts;



International Efforts



This week in Washington, USDA is hosting a workshop to prepare 50 volunteers from more than 15 countries for rapid international deployment to combat highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. The volunteers have technical expertise in epidemiology, biosecurity, surveillance and detection.



USDA is assisting with the coordination of a global communications workshop to be hosted next month by FAO and OIE. It will bring together communications experts from around the world to develop a strategic international communications plan focused on animal-to-animal spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus.



USDA also is developing a series of educational materials to help train our international partners in the areas of diagnostics, compensation programs and vaccination facts. These videos and DVD sets will be available later this year.



Wild Bird Monitoring



In 2006, USDA and the Department of the Interior (DOI), along with state and academic partners, collected and tested more than 100,000 wild bird samples from all 50 states with emphasis in the four major North American flyways. Of those, 16 samples were presumptive positive for low pathogenic H5N1, known as the North American strain, and six were confirmed to be low pathogenic H5N1. These results were publicly reported upon completion of the testing.



In April 2007, USDA, DOI, state partners and academic institutions will implement this year's plan to monitor wild birds, called the 2007 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Early Detection System. Surveillance will again be conducted in all four major flyways, and in Hawaii and the South Pacific. Data collected from 2006 will be used to further focus the sampling on high risk species and geographic locations.



Domestic Monitoring



To combat illegal importation of pet birds, poultry and poultry products, USDA maintains a special Smuggling Intervention and Trade Compliance unit. This anti-smuggling team works with the Department of Homeland Security to seize prohibited products brought into this country by smugglers and agricultural import violators. In 2006, this team conducted a total of 31 special operations at various ports of entry, restaurants and markets throughout the United States. One of those operations led to the seizure of more than 360,000 pounds of prohibited poultry products.
In 2007, 70 special operations are planned. To date, 23 operations have been conducted at various air, land and sea ports, mail facilities, markets warehouses and restaurants to search for illegally smuggled poultry and poultry products.



In September 2006, USDA made several changes to the National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP), which is a coordinated effort to certify flocks as free of poultry diseases. NPIP testing was expanded from certifying only breeder flocks as avian influenza free to include commercial poultry flocks. Additionally, USDA committed to providing 100 percent indemnity for specified costs associated with eradication of H5 and H7 low path A-I for NPIP participants.



In 2006, more than 132,000 birds were tested as part of the live bird marketing surveillance program. Currently, 12 states participate in this program. This year, it will expand to include additional states that have smaller live bird marketing systems.



An industry-driven national monitoring plan was developed in 2006, which requires producers who participate to test every broiler flock before slaughter - this presents 98 percent of U.S. broiler production. Monthly reports describing this surveillance data are posted on the USDA Web site.



Avian Influenza Research



USDA researchers, in partnership with the University of Alaska, completed a seven-year study of the avian influenza virus among waterfowl and shorebirds in Alaska, where Asian and North American birds meet in the same summer breeding grounds. The scientists took 8,254 samples and concluded that the risk of the introduction of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza through migratory birds in this region is relatively low.



SOURCE: USDA news release.