The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security need to work together to define, communicate and understand their roles and responsibilities or risk delaying a federal-level response to an avian flu outbreak, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report. The GAO also said unless the USDA develops a standard set of criteria that state response plans should contain, state-level plans will continue to have shortcomings that could impede efforts to contain future outbreaks.
In reviewing 19 state plans, the GAO found 14 that lacked important components that could facilitate rapid containment of the virus, such as having time frames established to accomplish response activities that would help states determine the extent to which they were successful in controlling the outbreak. The 60-page report emphasized the need for a well-planned, well-coordinated emergency response to highly pathogenic AI (avian influenza) in order to mitigate financial losses to the $28 billion U.S. poultry industry.
We must increase the coordination between agencies and between the federal and state governments so that our rapid-response system is ready if and when a widespread outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza strikes, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a news release about the report. This is a not a new threat to this country, and, while GAO highlights measures USDA has taken to prepare the country for such a threat, there should be no excuse for failing to have a stronger response system in place. -- by Jessica Zigmond