U.S. Government Focuses on Animal Diseases

In two separate actions, the U.S. government took further steps toward prevention and control of animal diseases.

First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continued its commitment to avian influenza research by renewing the Avian Influenza Coordinated Agricultural Project (AICAP) with another $5 million for three years to the University of Maryland-College Park.

The USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service originally awarded the AICAP in 2005 to the University of Maryland to establish a research and education project to help prevent and control avian influenza. The project was composed of a multidisciplinary team of researchers and extension specialists representing 17 states.

AICAP goals include epidemiology, basic research, diagnostics, vaccines, and education. Since 2005, project researchers and educators have:

• assembled the first continent-wide network to study the ecological and biological characteristics of avian influenza viruses isolated from wild birds;

• integrated research and education into a unique program available to a range of poultry producers;

• shown that quail can change and expand the host range of avian influenza viruses, and found that quail respiratory and intestinal tracts have human-like sialic acid receptors that could partially explain the emergence of avian influenza strains with the capacity to infect humans;

• developed a comprehensive program that has been delivered in 33 states and in Canada and Brazil to train producers and veterinarians on the depopulation and composting of flocks with avian influenza;

• developed a testing component for rapid diagnosis of avian influenza in birds; and

• developed promising vaccines for mass immunization of birds.

The institutions and researchers participating in AICAP are Virginia Tech, Auburn University, University of California-Davis, University of Delaware, University of Georgia, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service-Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Texas A&M University, Western University Health Sciences, and University of Maryland-College Park.

Secondly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate issued the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public review and comment. The proposed NBAF is a joint effort with USDA that would establish a state-of-the-art, high-security laboratory facility to study both foreign animal and zoonotic diseases.

The NBAF would be designed to replace the existing facilities at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, currently the only facility in the United States that studies the live virus that causes foot and mouth disease. The Plum Island facility is too small to meet new research needs and has an outdated physical structure that makes it unsuitable for zoonotic disease research that must be conducted at the highest level of biosafety, called BSL-4. There is no laboratory facility in the United States for BSL-4 research for livestock.

No decision has been made yet on where, or even if, the facility would be built. The Science and Technology Directorate is undergoing an extensive review process to thoroughly evaluate each option, with the feedback of all interested parties, before any decision is made.

The Draft EIS analyzes the proposal to design, construct, and operate the NBAF, including risk assessments, for each of the six proposed locations: Athens, GA; Manhattan, KS; Madison County, MS; Granville County, NC; San Antonio, TX; and Plum Island, NY. The draft also analyzes a no-action alternative, in which a new facility is not built.

The DHS will host public meetings in the vicinity of each proposed site this summer. The Draft EIS, as well as information on submitting comments during the 60-day comment period that ends August 25, 2008, are available at www.dhs.gov/nbaf. The NBAF Final EIS is expected in late fall 2008 and a decision on if, and where, the NBAF would be constructed will be published in the Federal Register no less than 30 days after completion of the Final EIS.

August 2008 RENDER | back