GAO report highlights failings in US Department of Agriculture strategy for tackling highly pathogenic AI
The US Department of Agriculture is still unprepared for a potential Avian flu outbreak according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office.
While the USDA has made what the GAO describes “important steps” in preparing for highly pathogenic AI, such as establishing mechanisms to prevent infected poultry being imported, and developing surveillance programmes to detect any outbreaks, “incomplete planning at the federal and state levels, as well as several unresolved issues, could slow response”.
The report claims that the USDA has failed to plan for the lead coordinating role that the Department of Homeland Security would assume if an outbreak among poultry occurred that is sufficient in scope to warrant various federal disaster declarations.
“the USDA response plans do not identify the capabilities needed to carry out the critical tasks associated with an outbreak scenario
The GAO report also highlighted the fact that the USDA response plans do not identify the capabilities needed to carry out the critical tasks associated with an outbreak scenario—that is, the entities responsible for carrying them out, the resources needed, and the provider of those resources. Furthermore, some state plans lack important components that could facilitate rapid AI containment, which is problematic because states typically lead initial response efforts.
The GAO also cited the fact that there remained several unresolved issues that, absent advance consideration, could hinder response. For example, controlling an outbreak among birds raised in backyards, such as for hobby, remains particularly difficult because federal and state officials generally do not know the numbers and locations of these birds. In addition, USDA has not estimated the amount of antiviral medication that it would need during an outbreak or resolved how to provide such supplies in a timely manner. According to federal guidance, poultry workers responding to an outbreak of highly pathogenic AI should take antiviral medication to protect them from infection.