The National Animal Health Laboratory Network was a primary focus of the joint meeting of officials of the United States Animal Health Association, including the USAHA Committee on Government Relations, and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12-16.
According to Dr. Bret D. Marsh, USAHA president, only 12 of the nation's state and university veterinary diagnostic laboratories are now up to speed, ie, supplied with modern, up-to-date equipment and trained technicians to deal with foreign animal disease outbreaks.
"With the nation currently facing the threat of H5N1 avian influenza, laboratory diagnostic capability is critical," said Dr. Marsh, who is also Indiana state veterinarian.
The NAHLN, which began as a pilot project in 2002, is currently composed of just 12 state and university veterinary diagnostic laboratories linked together with a secure communication, reporting, and alert system. These laboratories have been provided with upgraded equipment and personnel to give them the capability to make preliminary diagnoses of certain foreign animal diseases. The Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories and Plum Island Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory are part of the network. Funding for up-to-date equipment, laboratory reagents, and trained personnel is essential for upgrading the remaining state and university laboratories.
Full implementation of the NAHLN will cost $90 million for equipment and materials plus $35 million annually for operating expenses.
In one of 51 resolutions approved by USAHA members during the 109th USAHA annual meeting/48th AAVLD annual conference this past November, the USAHA requested Congress to immediately provide the $90 million and the USDA to request line-item funding in its budget for the $35 million per year.
Dr. Marsh pointed out that if an outbreak of avian influenza or some other foreign animal disease were to occur, our current laboratory diagnostic capability could be quickly overwhelmed.
The National Animal Identification System was another priority addressed at the February meeting in Washington. In January, USAHA officials met with Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns and offered to host a jointly facilitated session on the NAIS. Dr. Marsh said the objective of such a meeting would be to assemble a small group of key industry representatives to advance plans for a national system. The USDA is considering the USAHA proposal.
The visit to Secretary Johanns by Drs. Marsh and Bob Hillman of the USAHA arose from the November approval of a resolution on the NAIS tracking database—one of the association's four NAIS-related resolutions.
It was in 2004 that the USDA initiated implementation of the NAIS as a cooperative state-federal-industry partnership to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species and poultry. The system will integrate three components—premises identification, animal identification, and animal tracking. Premises identification is the starting point, and progress continues to be made, with all states now operational. The long-term goal is to provide animal health officials with the capability to identify livestock and premises that have had direct contact with a disease of concern, within 48 hours after discovery.
The NAIS is currently a voluntary program; the USDA has adopted a phased-in approach to implementation. The AVMA supports an effective NAIS that contains certain key elements. Recently, an independent consortium called the United States Animal Identification Organization was formed to manage the industry-led animal ID movement database.
Other issues addressed in February included veterinary accreditation programs, surveillance for animal and poultry diseases, emergency management systems for foreign animal diseases, and plans for dealing with low- and high-pathogenic avian influenza.
At the 2005 annual meeting in November in Hershey, Pa., the general session focused on health concerns at the interface of wildlife, people, and domestic animals. Dr. Marsh was installed as USAHA president. "Over the next year, we will work together with input from the membership and, more specifically, from the board of directors to discover our core values," he said. "We will use this foundation to plan for the future strategically." Dr. Marsh is also the AVMA's current treasurer.
Other officers are as follows: Dr. Lee M. Myers, Georgia state veterinarian, president-elect; James Leafstedt, South Dakota pork producer, first vice president; Dr. Don Hoenig, Maine state veterinarian, second vice president; Dr. Richard Breitmeyer, California state veterinarian, third vice president; Dr. William L. Hartmann, Minnesota state veterinarian, treasurer; and Dr. J. Lee Alley, retired Alabama state veterinarian, secretary. Dr. Richard Willer, Arizona state veterinarian, is immediate past president.
The USAHA resolutions can be viewed at www.usaha.org via the Quick Links.
Read about USAHA and AAVLD awards.