Talking points prepared for delivery by Dr. Richard Raymond,
Under Secretary for Food Safety, to the Washington State Planning
for Pandemic Influenza Summit on Friday, April 14, 2006, in
I would like to thank everyone for this opportunity to brief
you on USDA's avian influenza efforts. It's great to see so
many people wanting to learn more about this important topic
and what they can do to help. I want you to know that your support
will be critical.
While the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus has
not been detected in the U.S., it's likely we will see it here
USDA's Four Part Approach
That is why President Bush's National Strategy for Pandemic
Influenza is focused on mobilizing the Government's wide-ranging
expertise and resources. The Administration's goal is to ensure
that all appropriate preparations are being made for the potential
spread of the disease to our country.
The official U.S. government Web site for pandemic flu is PandemicFlu.gov.
You can also visit AvianFlu.gov
for more information on avian influenza.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is playing many important
roles in this effort. USDA's four-part approach to combating
avian influenza includes limiting the spread of the virus overseas
through international outreach. USDA's official Web site is
Second, we're also educating the American public through a
proactive campaign to inform and not alarm. Third is USDA's
aggressive surveillance program, which includes wild birds,
commercial poultry, live bird markets, and backyard flocks.
The fourth aspect of our efforts is to execute our response
plan. As some of you might know, USDA has a long and successful
history of dealing with highly pathogenic avian influenza. High
path AI has been detected three times in the United States since
the 1920s. During the most recent outbreak — in 2004 — USDA
worked with state, local, and industry officials to quickly
identify, contain, and eradicate the source.
USDA continues to work with the international community affected
by the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus. Any help
that we can offer these countries in containing this virus could
help to protect both animal and human health in the United States.
There is clear agreement that a global effort is needed to
address the disease in poultry to prevent a more serious health
situation among humans.
That's why USDA is taking an active role in the global campaign
against avian influenza and we are coordinating our work with
affected countries through the United Nations' Food and Agriculture
Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.
USDA has sent teams of experts to educate, conduct research,
and assist other countries with monitoring and eradication efforts.
In addition, we are preparing to work as part of an international
team to conduct country by country assessments of their needs
in relation to AI.
These are important steps, but we believe that our work here
at home is every bit as important and we are not waiting for
the virus to reach our shores — our strategy is to prepare as
if the virus will reach the United States.
Domestically USDA is enhancing smuggling interdiction and trade
compliance; increasing bird vaccine stockpiles and other response
supplies. For example, USDA has a smuggling interdiction team
that works closely with the Department of Homeland Security's
Customs and Border Protection to prevent illegal smuggling of
birds and poultry products. This will help prevent the introduction
and dissemination of H5N1 into the United States through illegal
In addition, USDA is bolstering biosecurity measures, surveillance
and reporting. These efforts help to ensure that we have the
swift control, eradication, and disinfection capabilities that
are critical in the event of a highly pathogenic H5N1 or other
serious AI detection.
USDA is well positioned to accomplish this goal not just because
of our past experience in combating AI, but also because of
the partnerships that have been forged with State animal health
officials and the poultry industry.
Migratory Bird Surveillance
Nearly three weeks ago, Secretary Johanns, joined by Secretary
Leavitt from the Department of Health and Human Services and
Secretary Norton from the Department of the Interior, announced
the migratory bird surveillance plan. This plan expands on the
existing monitoring of migratory birds in the U.S. and establishes
common protocol for tracking the data.
The plan specifically targets the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian
influenza virus. Surveillance already has begun in Alaska and
will expand to the other four major North American flyways over
the course of the next several months.
Early detection and rapid response are the keys to controlling
and minimizing the effects of highly pathogenic avian flu. The
expanded migratory bird testing gives us one more important
tool in this regard.
Commercial Poultry Surveillance
USDA is not new to animal disease response and eradication efforts.
We have State-level emergency response teams on standby that
can typically be on site within 24 hours. Eradication of the
affected flocks would be our primary course of action.
In response to highly pathogenic avian influenza as well as
for low pathogenic H5 and H7 subtypes, USDA in cooperation with
the States, would follow five basic steps. These five steps
include: Quarantining and restricting the movement of poultry
and poultry equipment into and out of the control area; Humanely
destroying the bird population in the control area; Cleaning
and disinfecting the affected poultry operation after the birds
have been depopulated; Increasing the amount of testing for
AI throughout the region to quickly detect any spread; and Maintaining
the quarantine of the affected area until the intensive testing
demonstrates that the poultry population is AI-free.
USDA also maintains a bank of avian influenza bird vaccines
that most likely would be used to protect healthy birds outside
a control area, if necessary.
There are 40 million doses on hand. This includes 20 million
doses for H7 and 20 million doses for H5, which have been proven
effective against highly pathogenic H5N1 AI. Another 70 million
doses are in development to supplement the already large stockpile
In closing, I'd like to offer a few thoughts that I believe
are central to this discussion.
First, detection in birds does not signal the start of a human
pandemic. This virus is not easily transmitted from person to
person. The human illnesses that we have seen overseas have
resulted from direct contact with sick or dead birds.
Secondly, detection in wild birds does not mean the virus will
reach a commercial poultry operation, but we are prepared to
respond quickly and decisively if it does. The U.S. poultry
industry employs a very sophisticated system of firewalls to
protect the safety of their product.
After all, commercial poultry are typically raised in covered
buildings — offering limited exposure to wild birds. It's also
important to note that the U.S. commercial poultry industry
is highly consolidated and that means it would be easier to
wipe out the virus.
Third, even if the virus reaches a commercial poultry operation,
there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about eating
poultry. I'm very familiar with this issue as Under Secretary
for Food Safety.
We have always recommended proper preparation and cooking,
which protects consumers from avian influenza and other foodborne
illnesses. Properly prepared poultry is safe to eat — it's as
simple as that.
You should always follow these simple food safety steps: wash
your hands and cooking surfaces frequently; keep raw food and
cooked food separate; cook poultry to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit;
and chill leftovers promptly.
A minimum internal temperature of 165° F in poultry meat will
kill any viruses or bacteria that might be present in poultry.
So it's important to always use a food thermometer to make sure
you've cooked poultry to that safe temperature of 165° F.
Thank you again for the opportunity to update you on USDA's
avian influenza efforts.