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APHIS History Highlights: Why APHIS?

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Fifty years ago, the world was changing rapidly. Consumer demand for foreign products and commodities was on the rise. World agricultural trade was expanding rapidly. And more people than ever before were traveling across the country and around the world. Although these changes accelerated economic growth and helped to propel the globalization of business and industry, they also left the United States more vulnerable to foreign plant pests and animal diseases that could enter the country on the goods we imported.

A New Agency to Protect Animal and Plant Health 

To bolster the country’s defenses and protect U.S. farms and natural resources against these threats, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a new agency—the Animal and Plant Health Service—on October 28, 1971. Since the 1950s, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service had overseen both USDA’s basic scientific research and its animal and plant health regulatory activities. However, competing demands and the pressures of ongoing plant and animal health emergencies showed the need for a dedicated agency. The Federal Register declared the significance of the new agency: “APHS’ programs are of extreme importance to ensuring a stable and consistent supply of wholesome food and fiber products, and to the overall economy.”  

Six months later, on April 2, 1972, USDA transferred its meat and poultry inspection functions to APHS and changed the agency’s name to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Although USDA later moved meat and poultry inspection functions to its Food Safety and Quality Service in 1977, APHIS kept the word Inspection in its name. 

The First Administrator Sets the Course

photo of Francis MulhernDr. Francis J. Mulhern served as the first Administrator for the young agency from 1971 until 1980. A veterinarian by training, Dr. Mulhern led the agency’s eradication efforts against several significant animal health threats, including foot-and-mouth disease in Mexico and Canada, Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, Newcastle disease, and screwworm. On the plant side, he oversaw the launch of the cooperative boll weevil eradication program and efforts creating the North American Plant Protection Organization.

Dr. Francis J. Mulhern served as the first Administrator for the young agency from 1971 until 1980. A veterinarian by training, Dr. Mulhern led the agency’s eradication efforts against several significant animal health threats, including foot-and-mouth disease in Mexico and Canada, Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, Newcastle disease, and screwworm. On the plant side, he oversaw the launch of the cooperative boll weevil eradication program and efforts creating the North American Plant Protection Organization.

photo of two men observing a panda in a zooVery early in his tenure with APHIS, Dr. Mulhern and a team of Agency veterinarians were also involved in smoothing the entry of two very special guests from the People’s Republic of China. On April 16, 1972, giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing Hsing arrived at Washington, DC’s National Zoo after a stop in Honolulu. The pair were beloved fixtures at the zoo for decades and were the first of an ongoing ‘panda diplomacy’ program between the United States and China. (The current Zoo pandas are now loaned rather than gifted outright.) 



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