The NAHLN is a cooperative effort between two USDA agencies—the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)—and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (www.aavld.org). It is a multifaceted network comprised of laboratories that focus on different diseases, using common testing methods and data standards to process diagnostic requests and share information.
Networking these resources provides an extensive infrastructure of facilities, equipment, and personnel that are geographically accessible no matter where disease strikes. The laboratories have the capability and capacity to conduct nationwide surveillance testing for the early detection of an animal disease outbreak. They are able to test large numbers of samples rapidly during an outbreak and to demonstrate freedom from disease after eradication.
The nation's public health and food supply is at constant risk from accidental or malicious introduction of exotic animal diseases. The threats include conspicuous agents like foot and mouth disease (FMD) and highly pathogenic avian influenza, as well as less familiar agents that affect animals and humans, such as influenza A in swine and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, Section 335 authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to develop an agricultural early warning surveillance system to counteract these growing risks. Congress has the authority to appropriate funding for this effort.
Published in 2004, the Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-9) on the Defense of United States Agriculture and Food specifically directs the USDA to develop a comprehensive and fully coordinated surveillance and monitoring system for animal disease, as well as a nationwide laboratory network that integrates and interconnects existing Federal and State laboratory resources and utilizes standardized diagnostic protocols and procedures.
In response to these suggestions, the USDA Safeguarding Review identified the need for a state-of-the-art National Animal Health Laboratory Network which would coordinate Federal laboratory capacity with the extensive infrastructure (facilities, professional expertise, and support) of State-supported laboratories.
Special funds for Homeland Security were awarded by APHIS and Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension System (CSREES*) through CSREES. Cooperative agreements were awarded in May 2002 through APHIS and CSREES to twelve State/University diagnostic laboratory facilities for a two-year period to develop capacity and surveillance programs for eight high priority foreign animal diseases. The Network has grown rapidly since then, supported by APHIS and NIFA funding.
*CSREES was reorganized in 2009 and is now part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).