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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.

USDA, the United Nations, and Pakistan Unite to Fight FMD

Dr. Muhammad Afzal of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) holds up a bottle of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine to show what happens when the cold chain is broken. The vaccine is spoiled, cloudy with precipitates and no longer effective. Fortunately, this was a test bottle and 500,000 additional doses of vaccine are safely stored in a modern cold room provided by USDA as part of its Program for the Progressive Control of FMD in Pakistan.