WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Director-General Jacques Diouf of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization signed a Framework Agreement yesterday to coordinate technical assistance between USDA and the FAO.

The agreement will help to address issues important to agriculture, such as chronic hunger, plant and animal diseases including avian influenza, conservation, genetic resources and the growing demand for renewable energy resources.

"This agreement will facilitate greater international coordination and collaboration on a broad range of agricultural issues and help to protect our agricultural systems," said Johanns. "I believe the benefits will be immediate by enhancing the worldwide response to highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza."

The Framework Agreement was approved last fall and formally signed today. Under the agreement, a Crisis Management Center was formed, operated by the FAO in close collaboration with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and located in Rome. It provides animal disease analysis and deploys international resources to prevent and contain animal diseases.

The center is currently focused on highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza, which continues to spread in parts of the world. Three USDA specialists are currently assigned to the center.

SOURCE: USDA news release.