Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, wrote to Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Michael Young to request information about the department’s response to recent detections of avian influenza around the country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for monitoring and eradicating avian flu outbreaks in the United States. 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, Stabenow stated. 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.

Earlier this month, the USDA found highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial flock of 73,000 chickens in Tennessee – the first confirmed case of HPAI on a U.S. farm this year. On March 16, officials 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 detections in Alabama and Kentucky. Stabenow said 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.”

In her letter, Stabenow sought answers to six basic questions:

  1. Who is the USDA official leading the response to HPAI and is the official empowered to make difficult, rapid decisions on issues as they arise, such as a decision to depopulate a flock threatened by the presence of HPAI?
  2. In the 2015 avian influenza outbreak, the USDA hired hundreds of veterinarians and other temporary workers to help manage the response. Is the hiring freeze recently imposed by the Trump administration in any way making the response to this outbreak more difficult or hindering the response and will the USDA be authorized to deploy more workers if they are needed to contain an outbreak?
  3. Carcass disposal varies depending on location of the infected facility, the ability to use incinerators and landfills, and other factors. During the HPAI outbreak in 2015, some producers encountered difficulties in finding sufficient disposal capacity near their facilities. How is the USDA preparing for potential disposal needs resulting from a broader outbreak?  
  4. Which USDA official will be managing any international trade considerations that arise as a result of HPAI?
  5. Migratory waterfowl serve as a reservoir for avian influenza. Can you describe how USDA has increased its surveillance efforts in migratory waterfowl, including any outreach it has conducted to neighboring countries on this issue?
  6. Producers significantly enhanced their biosecurity practices as a result of the 2015 outbreak. How has USDA been engaging with states, local communities, and producer organizations regarding the importance of enhancing biosecurity practices to protect against the threat of avian influenza? 

Track 2017 avian flu outbreaks in North American poultry

To help poultry growers and producers monitor these outbreaks of avian influenza, WATTAgNet has again created an interactive map tracking cases confirmed by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in North America in 2017: