The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is celebrating the agency’s many successful efforts to protect American agriculture and natural resources over the past year.
“In 2017, our many dedicated APHIS employees pulled together to accomplish numerous tasks, large and small, showing our continual support for this country’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers,” said APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea. “I am honored to lead this team and proud of the great work they do every day.”
Major achievements this year include successfully responding to two animal health emergencies, making significant progress toward the elimination of two cotton pests, reducing the destruction caused by feral swine, and increasing agricultural trade. In addition to these specific accomplishments, highlighted below, the agency’s employees worked tirelessly on many diverse issues to ensure that U.S. producers can continue to feed America and the world.
Eradication of New World screwworm
In October 2016, for the first time in over 35 years, a significant New World screwworm population was detected in the Florida Keys. This finding posed a significant threat to livestock, as well as wild and domestic animals in Florida, and if it had not been addressed quickly, could have quickly spread to animals in other States. APHIS immediately began rearing sterile flies at its facility in Panama and releasing them as part of an aggressive eradication effort undertaken in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and local partners. This effort focused on preventing the further spread of the screwworm fly in Florida, eradicating the screwworm flies from the infested area, preserving the endangered Key deer, and protecting domestic animals and pets. Approximately 154 million sterile flies were released, 16,902 animals were inspected at checkpoints, and over 750 hours of active surveillance were completed. Due to the success of this work, APHIS was able to announce the eradication of screwworm from Florida in late March.
2017 HPAI and LPAI response
In March, APHIS’ National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed two cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on commercial poultry farms in Tennessee. After the initial HPAI finding, APHIS also found 12 cases of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) in backyard and commercial poultry flocks in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia. Both forms of the disease must be dealt with quickly to protect the nation’s poultry – HPAI because it spreads rapidly and kills poultry and LPAI because it can mutate into HPAI. APHIS worked with state partners on joint incident responses, quickly stopping the spread of detections and eradicating the disease. The affected premises were quarantined and depopulated, and surveillance and testing of nearby farms was completed. APHIS also joined forces with the affected states and the poultry industry to complete a series of epidemiologic, genetic and wildlife investigations. Just two years ago, the largest HPAI outbreak in U.S. history occurred, costing a billion dollars in Federal funds and causing billions of dollars in producer and allied industry losses. With this year’s responses, APHIS worked closely with State and industry partners to stop a similar large-scale outbreak from happening, preventing further losses and costs while maintaining critical export markets.
Export markets opened and retained
APHIS plays a vital role in ensuring the free flow of agricultural trade. The Agency does this by keeping U.S. agricultural industries free from pests and diseases and certifying that the millions of U.S. agricultural and food products shipped to markets abroad meet the importing countries' entry requirements. APHIS’ role also includes making sure that all imported agricultural products shipped to the United States from abroad meet the Agency's entry requirements to exclude pests and diseases of agriculture. In FY 17 APHIS worked with USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and others to: open a potential $50 million live animal/genetics market in Kyrgyzstan; open the sugar beet market in China; eliminate burdensome European Union requirements on U.S. citrus; reopen the $220 million dried distillers grain market in Vietnam; expand the apple market in China to more U.S. varieties; and reopen the market in Japan for Idaho potatoes. Also, the reopening of the beef market in China—worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years—was possible only because of years of technical exchange between APHIS animal health officials and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service food safety officials and their Chinese counterparts.
Progress on feral swine damage management
Feral swine cause major damage to property, agriculture and the environment. They can also threaten the health of people, wildlife, pets, and other domestic animals. It’s estimated there are more than 6 million feral swine in at least 35 states, inflicting about $1.5 billion dollars in damage each year. APHIS developed a national feral swine damage management program in 2014 to help reduce the spread of these animals and lessen the damage they cause. Due to program efforts, in 2017 APHIS saw three states significantly reduce their feral swine populations. APHIS also began using detector dogs to help confirm that feral swine are no longer present in an area. The detector dogs give APHIS confidence in saying the feral swine are gone, allowing us to focus on other areas that are still experiencing damage. The program also created an advisory group of subject matter experts to provide guidance for strengthening the feral swine disease monitoring component.
Progress on cotton pests
APHIS is making great strides in eradicating significant cotton pests, allowing U.S. cotton growers to lower costs and become more competitive, while at the same time helping the environment. Started in 2000, the Pink Bollworm Eradication Program encompasses portions of California, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. There have been no native pink bollworm captures since 2012 in the program areas, meaning the program has now completed the “confirmation of eradication” phase. APHIS expects to declare eradication of pink bollworm from the commercial cotton growing areas of the continental United States in the latter half of 2018. Another important cotton program, the national Boll Weevil Eradication Program, has eradicated the boll weevil from all U.S. cotton growing areas, except the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Boll weevil captures in the Lower Rio Grande Valley dropped from 174,640 in 2016 to 34,352 in 2017. This is an 80% reduction in one year and a big step towards eradicating the boll weevil from the United States.