USDA Mandates Testing of Interstate Dairy Cattle for Avian Influenza Amid Ongoing Outbreak

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new federal order requiring all dairy cattle moving between states to be tested for avian influenza before transport, as the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has been detected in dairy herds across multiple states. This mandatory testing requirement is part of the USDA's efforts to contain the spread of the ongoing H5N1 avian influenza outbreak that has already had a devastating impact on the poultry industry.

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Nasiru Eneji Abdulrasheed
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USDA Mandates Testing of Interstate Dairy Cattle for Avian Influenza Amid Ongoing Outbreak

USDA Mandates Testing of Interstate Dairy Cattle for Avian Influenza Amid Ongoing Outbreak

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a new federal order requiring all dairy cattle moving between states to be tested for avian influenza, also known as bird flu, before transport. This mandatory testing requirement, which goes into effect on April 29, 2024, is part of the USDA's efforts to contain the spread of the ongoing H5N1 avian influenza outbreak that has affected both commercial poultry flocks and dairy herds across multiple states.

Under the new order, lactating dairy cows must test negative for influenza A before being allowed to cross state lines. The USDA says it can perform tens of thousands of tests per day to support this initiative. Owners of herds that test positive prior to interstate movement will be required to provide epidemiological information and animal movement tracing to the USDA. Additionally, laboratories and state veterinarians must report any confirmed livestock infections to federal officials.

The USDA's decision to implement mandatory testing comes as evidence has emerged that the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, commonly spread by migrating birds, has been transmitting from cow to cow and from cattle to poultry. Of particular concern is the finding that some infected cows may not show any clinical signs of illness, potentially facilitating the undetected spread of the virus as asymptomatic carriers are transported to new herds in different states.

Why this matters: The avian influenza outbreak has already had a devastating impact on the poultry industry, leading to the death or culling of over 90 million birds in U.S. commercial flocks. The spread of the virus to dairy cattle raises concerns about the potential for wider economic disruption and the risk of the virus further adapting to mammalian hosts, which could increase the possibility of human transmission.

To date, the H5N1 virus has been detected in 33 dairy herds across eight states since the first cattle cases were confirmed in Texas and Kansas in late March. While the public health risk remains low, with only two human infections reported so far in poultry farm workers, health officials are closely monitoring the situation. "Continued scientific vigilance and collaboration are vital in managing the evolving situation," the USDA stated.

The FDA has confirmed that pasteurization effectively destroys the avian influenza virus and that the nation's milk supply remains safe for consumption. However, the agency recently disclosed that inactivated fragments of the H5N1 virus had been detected in a small number of samples of commercially sold pasteurized milk, suggesting that the outbreak in cattle may be more widespread than currently recognized based on reported infections alone.

As part of the ongoing response, the USDA is working with state counterparts to potentially expand testing of cows when they are moved within a state. The National Milk Producers Federation has called the federal testing order "appropriate" and says dairy farmers are prepared to take a proactive approach to help control the outbreak. The USDA will be reimbursing farmers for the costs associated with the mandatory testing program.

Key Takeaways

  • USDA mandates testing of dairy cattle for avian flu before interstate transport.
  • Asymptomatic infected cows may facilitate undetected virus spread across states.
  • Avian flu has already devastated poultry industry, now spreads to dairy cattle.
  • Pasteurized milk is safe, but virus fragments found in some samples.
  • USDA to reimburse farmers for mandatory testing costs to control outbreak.