Stabenow asks USDA for information on bird flu response | TheFencePost.com

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Stabenow asks USDA for information on bird flu response

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. on March 17 asked Acting Deputy Agriculture Secretary Michael Young, the highest ranking official at USDA right now, to explain how the Trump administration is responding to avian influenza around the country.

As Stabenow noted, USDA has found highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial flock of 73,000 chickens in Tennessee, and on March 16 detected the same HPAI strain in a nearby flock. Two cases of low-pathogenic avian influenza were also discovered in Wisconsin and Tennessee, followed by three additional suspected cases in Alabama this month.

In a letter to Young, Stabenow asked who is in charge of the effort to fight avian influenza, whether the Trump administration's hiring freeze will affect the effort to fight the disease, and who will handle international trade questions about the presence of HPAI in U.S. commercial flocks, including restrictions that other countries place on imports of U.S. poultry.

Stabenow's questions to Young were not directly political in nature, but they did seem to reflect concern about the lack of high-level political leadership at USDA in the first two months of President Donald Trump's administration.

The White House did not send the full nomination papers for Sonny Perdue, Trump's nominee for agriculture secretary, to the Senate Agriculture Committee until last week. His confirmation hearing is set for March 23.

USDA is responsible for monitoring and eradicating avian flu outbreaks, Stabenow noted.

"While the department has a thoughtful response plan in place for avian flu detections, there are numerous leadership positions at the USDA that have been vacant since the beginning of the Trump administration," she said. "Additionally, the recent federal hiring freeze has raised questions about the USDA's ability to hire temporary veterinarians and other experts to help manage the response.

"The recent detections come in the wake of a devastating HPAI outbreak in 2015 that claimed 48 million birds and caused unprecedented interruptions in production and trade. Nationwide, poultry producers are still recovering from financial losses.

"The confirmation of HPAI presents a threat to our nation's biosecurity, rural economies, and export markets," Stabenow wrote. "The 2015 outbreak demonstrated that a rapid and coordinated response to disease outbreaks is critical. We value the important role the USDA plays in protecting animal health and leading the response to recent outbreaks of avian influenza."