Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, told lawmakers Tuesday that the department is taking an eradication-based approach to highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Moffitt, speaking to the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee, said the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service aims to eventually eliminate the disease through "rapid depopulation and disposal" of infected poultry.

"At this stage of the outbreak, continuing our current strategy of eradication or 'stamping out' HPAI is our best and most effective option," Moffitt said.

Moffitt said these efforts, which have been used since last February when the agency first detected HPAI in a commercial flock in Indiana, have borne some fruit. Only five commercial flocks tested positive for the disease last month, compared to 51 in March 2022.

Much of the success has come from on-farm biosecurity, something that was lacking during the 2014-15 outbreak. During that outbreak, around 70% of the HPAI cases were caused by lateral spread. In comparison, only 16% of cases came from lateral spread during the current outbreak, she said.

A vaccine for the virus is in the works, though it will be a while before one could be commercially available and easily supplied, Moffitt said. She added that theres a number of factors that the agency would look before approving a vaccine, including potential trade impacts that may come from the use of one.

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On another issue, Rep. Tracey Mann, R-Kan, asked Moffitt about a proposed rule the agency put out earlier this year that would require cattle and bison moving across state lines to have both visually and electronically readable ear tags.

The proposed rule has drawn opposition from livestock producer group R-Calf USA, which said in a comment to USDA that the proposal would cost producers between $2.01 and $3.65 per animal. 

Moffitt said the current rule is still in draft form and that the agency will look at the comments before releasing a final rule. She said the agency could potentially help purchase ear tags for producers with additional funding from Congress.

"Should there be funding allowed and funding available, we can continue to look at ways we can distribute additional ear tags," Moffitt said.

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