U.S., U.N. Officials Agree To Coordinate Avian Flu Efforts

By Kathryn McConnell
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns March 14 signed an agreement with the head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calling for coordinated technical assistance to address avian influenza and other issues important to agriculture.

The agreement is intended to enhance the worldwide response to highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and help protect international agricultural systems, Johanns said.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza often is fatal in poultry and the H5N1 strain of the disease is spreading rapidly in some parts of the world.

As part of the agreement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently is hosting a workshop on preparing for avian influenza. Fifty experts from more than 15 countries who specialize in avian influenza epidemiology, surveillance, detection and safety are attending the workshop, Johanns said at a press briefing after signing the agreement with FAO Secretary-General Jacques Diouf.

USDA also is planning, with the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), an international workshop to be held in April in Rome on public awareness initiatives aimed at helping to prevent the further global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Later in 2007, USDA, FAO and OIE will release educational videotapes and digital video discs that will provide information on diagnosing avian influenza - also known as bird flu - vaccinations, and establishing programs to compensate poultry farmers and processors if bird flu affects their flocks, Johanns said.

As part of the framework of the agreement, which was reached in late 2006, an international Crisis Management Center was established in Rome. Operated by FAO in collaboration with the OIE and the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO), the center deploys resources where needed to prevent animal diseases and coordinate global disease response efforts. Three USDA specialists currently are assigned to the center, which also receives financial support from USDA. (See related article.)

Domestically, the United States monitors its air, land and sea ports of entry for the illegal introduction into the country of poultry, poultry products and pet birds by smugglers, Johanns said.

The smuggling intervention effort also is directed at mail facilities, markets, warehouses and restaurants, he said.

In 2007, the United States will launch a national public awareness campaign that will focus on the threat of introducing highly pathogenic bird flu through smuggled poultry, Johanns said.

Precautionary efforts include monitoring and testing wild, migratory birds that can carry influenza into the United States.

The United States also is expanding its educational campaign focusing on educating poultry farmers and exotic bird enthusiasts to recognize the warning signs of the disease and report sick or dead birds, the agriculture secretary said.

Another U.S. precautionary effort is monitoring and testing poultry sold at live bird markets for both low- and high-pathogenic bird flu, Johanns said.

In 2007, this effort will expand to include coordinated sampling and information sharing with neighbors Canada and Mexico, said Rick Kearny, of USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Low-pathogenic avian influenza is monitored because it has the potential to mutate into a high-pathogenic strain of the disease.

In addition to USDA, U.S. efforts to develop avian influenza protection and prevention systems include the departments of Interior, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

Efforts also involve state and academic partners that monitor the four major North American bird flyways.

The agreement with the FAO signed March 14 calls for coordinated efforts to address chronic hunger, plant and animal diseases, genetic resources, conservation and the demand for renewable energy resources, according to a USDA press release.

The full text of the press release and a transcript of the Johanns briefing are available on the USDA Web site.

For more information on avian influenza and efforts to combat it, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).