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USDA and DHS Scientists Receive Top DHS Award for Animal Disease Research

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

When people think about keeping our homeland safe, they don’t usually think about animal diseases that threaten our nation’s economy and food supply, but USDA scientists do. Years of dedicated research on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is paying off.

A team of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collaborators received the DHS Secretary's Exceptional Service Gold Medal Award at a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes outstanding leadership or service distinguished by achievements of national or international significance that improves our homeland security. The team successfully developed and licensed the world’s first molecular FMD vaccine for cattle—the most significant scientific accomplishment in FMD vaccine development in the past 50 years and the first FMD vaccine that can be manufactured in the United States.

Preventing Disease Spread through International Collaboration

Two departments, one mission.  That’s the reality for scientists working at Plum Island Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory in New York.  The island—owned and operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is critical to the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) mission to protect U.S. livestock from the introduction and spread foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.  It provides a biologically safe and secure location for APHIS scientists to diagnose animal diseases.  For two weeks this spring, Plum Island was the site of an important component of our agriculture safeguarding system: sharing expertise and experience to build and strengthen the training, skills and capabilities of other nations, also known as international capacity building.

USDA and DHS welcomed 26 veterinarians responsible for evaluating animal disease outbreaks from 11 Spanish-speaking countries to a training called the International Transboundary Animal Disease (ITAD) Course, funded by the Organismo International Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaris (OIRSA).  The course, provided entirely in Spanish, helps familiarize veterinarians with ten of the most serious animal diseases. The trainings provide a highly-trained global network capable of readily identifying and containing these diseases around the world, minimizing damage to animal agriculture and people’s livelihoods.

What is USDA Doing to Protect our Nation's Livestock from Foreign Animal Disease Threats?

On an island off the northeastern tip of Long Island, N.Y., U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are doing their part to safeguard the U.S. food supply.

At the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a USDA research team works to ensure that we’re prepared to protect ourselves against exotic animal diseases that threaten livestock production in the United States and around the world. The center, now operated by the Department of Homeland Security, offers a safe and secure site for developing vaccines, diagnostic tests and other technology to help prevent animal disease outbreaks, and to respond to outbreaks that might occur.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at Plum Island investigate infectious diseases such as classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Recently, they renewed efforts to help combat African swine fever, a deadly pig disease that’s invading other countries.

Jamaica and the United States Team Up to Keep Out Invasive Pests

The “Don’t Pack a Pest” campaign went international last month as Jamaica enthusiastically kicked off its own version of the outreach initiative in Montego Bay and Kingston.  The Florida-based program warns the public about the risks of bringing undeclared agricultural products—and hitchhiking invasive pests—from one country to another.  It’s a cooperative effort among the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and now the Jamaica Ministry of Agriculture.

USDA Encourages Summer Travelers to Protect American Agriculture by Not Packing a Pest

Whether you’re studying abroad in Europe, traveling on business in Asia, or taking that dream vacation to Hawaii, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is urging summer travelers to join us in the fight against invasive pests by not packing a pest.

While agricultural products make tempting souvenirs, invasive pests can hitchhike on fruits, vegetables, meats, processed foods, plants, and handicraft items.  If these invasive pests were to become established in the United States, they could devastate urban and rural landscapes and cost billions of dollars in lost revenue and eradication efforts.  As a result, APHIS restricts or prohibits the entry of certain agricultural products from foreign countries and from Hawaii and U.S. territories.

Defense of our Nation’s Food Supply – What is USDA Doing and What Can You do to Help?

National Preparedness Month is a good opportunity to reflect on progress towards ensuring the security of our Nation’s food supply.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers defense of the food and agriculture sector critical– all the way from farm to fork. Some animal or plant diseases could have drastic consequences on our economy - yet another reason it’s important that we continue our efforts to improve food and agricultural emergency preparedness and response.

You probably are familiar with many of the USDA agencies whose animal, plant and or food inspection programs have touched your life at some point whether traveling or simply buying meat or poultry sold in grocery stores.

For example, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) enhance agricultural security through numerous programs.  These programs range from inspecting native and foreign agricultural products, to evaluating food system vulnerabilities,  to maintaining laboratory networks that can rapidly identify diseases and pests.  To illustrate, some of our efforts over the last year include:

In the Wake of Irene; A Firsthand Look at our Hurricane Response

This week I joined Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on a tour of North Carolina and Virginia to assess areas damaged by Hurricane Irene and to discuss ways USDA can help residents recover.

Secretary Napolitano and I had the opportunity to see farmland devastated by the hurricane as well as speak with first responders, local officials, and residents about recovery efforts. It was encouraging to see communities pulling together to recover from these devastating circumstances.

Secretary Vilsack Tours Tornado Damage in Mississippi, Says USDA Rural Development Programs Can Help in Recovery Efforts

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Obama Administration Cabinet members Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, as well as Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills, and other state and local officials to tour areas in Alabama and Mississippi affected by last week’s tornadoes.

After visiting devastated sites in Birmingham and nearby areas, the group crossed over to Mississippi, where they surveyed the damage done to Smithville, a town of approximately 1000 that was almost literally wiped off the map.

Food Safety Across Borders

Yesterday I visited with FSIS personnel and 9 other federal agencies in Dulles, Virginia to focus on a critical element of food safety: protecting the public from unsafe imports.