The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service needs more trained emergency responders to handle a potential new outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, the agency’s administrator told a congressional subcommittee.

Kevin Shea, APHIS administrator, appeared before the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee, seeking more funds in fiscal year 2017 to allow the agency to fill as many as 80 first responder positions, reported USDA Radio News.

“We need to be able to respond faster and with more people,” Shea said. “If we could have had more trained veterinarians and animal health technicians on the ground faster [during the 2015 avian influenza outbreak], I think we would have had a better outcome or a quicker outcome.


“By not really being fully staffed with emergency responders, we had to rely probably more than we liked on contractors, which led to some inconsistency in message from farm to farm about what they should do.”

More than 48 million birds were lost to avian influenza between December 2014 and June 2015. Avian influenza resurfaced in Dubois County, Indiana, in January 2016, affecting 10 turkey flocks. However, the virus did not spread beyond the county and state veterinary officials have since released the avian influenza control area, allowing regular poultry movement to resume.