GAO assesses USDA's response to disease outbreaks

A new report from U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines differences in the USDA's responses to outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) and porcine deltacoronavirus (PDCoV), known collectively as Swine Enteric Coronavirus Diseases (SECD).

When PED broke out in the United states in 2013, the USDA did not initially take any regulatory action such as requiring reporting of disease cases, according to a new report from the GAO. In that outbreak, the USDA supported industry-led efforts, but had limited information about the location of infected herds.

According to the GAO report, USDA officials acknowledged that the agency did not follow its guidance calling for epidemiological investigations at the onset of emerging outbreaks. The report's authors also note that USDA lacked a process to ensure the guidance would be followed in the future.

When PDCoV emerged in U.S. swine herds during the summer of 2014, USDA responded differently, issuing a federal order requiring reporting of newly infected herds. This allowed the agency to collect accurate information about the number and location of infected herds. Through this process, the USDA confirmed outbreaks, and the magnitude of those outbreaks, in 28 states. USDA also provided funding to help manage the diseases.

The most extensive outbreaks occurred in Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina, each with 101 or more positive premises.

The report notes that USDA has drafted a new guidance for addressing emerging animal diseases, but has not defined key aspects of its response such as roles and responsibilities. "Without a clearly defined response to such emerging animal diseases, response efforts could be slowed," the authors write.

In its report, GAO recommends that USDA "develop a process to help ensure its guidance for investigation of animal diseases is followed and clarify and document how it will respond to emerging diseases, including defining roles and responsibilities." USDA generally agreed with GAO's recommendations, according to the report summary.

Access the full report from the GAO.