WASHINGTON, December 16, 2020 — The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is celebrating the agency’s many successful efforts over the past year.
“This has been a year like no other,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach. “Even with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, APHIS’ employees continued to provide great service and support for the country’s farmers, ranchers, and citizens. Protecting American agriculture requires constant vigilance and effort, and APHIS employees found safe, effective, and creative ways to accomplish our mission this year.”
In addition to continuing 100% of our mission-critical work uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the most significant accomplishments during 2020 include eradicating Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 from more than 650 U.S. commercial greenhouses in just two months; eradicating an outbreak of avian influenza in North and South Carolina, preventing spread to other areas and limiting the overall impact on the poultry industry; publishing the final SECURE rule, the first-ever major revision of USDA’s biotechnology regulations, which streamlines and modernizes our system; establishing the first-ever robust foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank; preserving $56 million value of trade; protecting 192 million acres from feral swine damage; and assisting with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic including establishing confirmatory testing services for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in animals and quickly setting up a National Incident Coordination Center to support producers impacted by COVID-19 closures and shutdowns at meat processing plants.
In June, only two months after the first detection, APHIS and its state partners eradicated Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 from U.S. greenhouses. In total, the response involved more than 650 facilities in 44 States. R. solanacearum race 3 biovar 2 can cause a wilt disease in several important agricultural crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. This was the first confirmed case of this pathogen in U.S. greenhouses since 2004. This prompt and thorough response kept the disease from spreading further and impacting our nation’s crops, while protecting U.S. producers’ livelihoods.
Avian Influenza Eradication
In March and April, animal health officials identified several cases of H7 low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) in North and South Carolina. APHIS and its partners responded quickly because this type of LPAI can mutate into a highly-pathogenic form, which is deadly to commercial poultry. As feared, a single case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was detected in the same area during the response. In all, the outbreak was limited to a dozen cases of low pathogenic and one highly pathogenic case in a small geographic area. The combined efforts of APHIS and its partners prevented spread to other areas, which limited the overall impact on the poultry industry.
Biotechnology Regulation Revision
In May, APHIS published the Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient (SECURE) rule, the first comprehensive revision of the Agency’s biotechnology regulations in over 30 years. The new rule removes duplicative and antiquated processes in order to facilitate the development and availability of these technologies through a transparent, consistent, science-based, and risk-proportionate regulatory system. This new rule provides America’s farmers access to these critical tools to help increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, improve the nutritional value and quality of crops, combat pests and diseases, and enhance food safety. The new rule helps ensure the regulations keep pace with the latest science and technological advances, reduces regulatory burdens for developers of plants developed using genetic engineering that are unlikely to pose plant pest risks, and ensures that agency resources are better focused on the prevention of plant pest risk.
Foot-and-Mouth Disease Vaccine Purchase
In July, APHIS invested $27.1 million in foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine, the first purchase for the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank created by the 2018 Farm Bill. APHIS intends to use the purchased vaccine in the event of an FMD outbreak to protect animals and help stop the spread of disease. While APHIS has kept FMD out of the country since 1929, having access to vaccine is an important insurance policy. The new U.S.-only vaccine bank—a concept APHIS officials have long discussed with stakeholders and industry—allows APHIS to stockpile animal vaccine and related products to use in the event of an outbreak of FMD or other high-impact foreign animal diseases.
Throughout the year, U.S. shipments encounter various delays at foreign ports. APHIS negotiates with other countries in order to resolve these delays and keep trade flowing smoothly. In 2020, APHIS resolved delays for hundreds of shipments. These actions preserved $56 million worth of trade and helped our farmers’ products continue to their ultimate market destinations. Additionally, APHIS works to resolve challenges posed by pest detections, trading partner regulatory changes, and other issues to preserve threatened markets for U.S.-origin goods, including poultry to Cuba (valued at $200 million); meat and meat products to Qatar (valued at $46 million); and egg products to Australia (valued at $2 million)
Feral Swine Damage Prevention
Feral swine cause more than $1.5 billion annually in damage and management costs nationwide. Unchecked, they cause significant damage to all aspects of agriculture, including row crops, forestry, livestock, and pasture. They also affect natural resources, historical and cultural sites, and people’s property and pets. Through cooperative state-federal work, in 2020 APHIS protected 192 million acres from feral swine damage across 37 states and 3 territories. This work not only protected U.S. producers’ agricultural productivity, but also directly protected 119 threatened and endangered species and habitats.
SARS-CoV-2 Testing and Producer Support
As the national animal health reference laboratory, APHIS established confirmatory testing services for animal samples for SARS-CoV-2 and tested more than 500 animals for the virus, confirming 66 animals as positive. APHIS also worked with 37 labs in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to get them set up for added COVID-19 testing services, including 22 with capability to test human samples, and collaborated closely with both animal and public health officials on a variety of COVID-19 related projects. Additionally, APHIS created a National Incident Coordination Center to support producers impacted by COVID-19 closures and slowdowns at meat processing plants. As part of these efforts, the National Veterinary Stockpile quickly deployed more than $2.24 million worth of critical equipment, supplies and services to directly support affected producers.
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