As our country continues to battle COVID-19, the most destructive pandemic of our time, we must recognize that zoonotic diseases, or diseases transmitted from animals to humans, remain a constant threat to animal health, public health, and the nation’s food supply. We’ve learned from other zoonotic diseases such as Zika, Ebola, and avian influenza that it is not a matter of if we will have another disease outbreak, but rather when and what it will be.
This reality is why it is critical for Congress to invest $300 million in animal health infrastructure during stimulus negotiations to bolster our response to COVID-19 and ensure our nation is better prepared for future disease outbreaks. Animal disease prevention and preparedness programs are a key component of our nation’s public health infrastructure. This funding will help safeguard the food supply and bolster our public health capabilities. In a period of uncertainty, this is the swift and decisive action the country needs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) member labs are being leveraged to augment public health laboratory capacity and expand and expedite COVID-19 testing in humans. NAHLN equipment, supplies, and personnel are being used to supplement the ongoing response.
Given the NAHLN’s COVID-19 response efforts, funding is critical to maintaining the capability for the diagnostics and surveillance of foreign animal diseases, the heart of their core mission. COVID-19 is a turning point in our nation’s preparedness and response to infectious disease. A pandemic affecting food animals, like African swine fever, or a potential zoonotic pathogen such as avian influenza, would cause even more severe disruptions and economic harm to our agricultural industry.
Collectively, the USDA animal health infrastructure helps us prevent, prepare, detect, and respond to high-consequence foreign animal disease outbreaks and are our nation’s only defense against animal diseases that threaten our food supply and can spill over into the human population.
When the consequences of inaction impact the well-being of the American people, we must respond assertively in an appropriate and timely manner. Congress can’t miss this opportunity to safeguard us from another pandemic.
Dr. Doug Kratt is president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.