USDA issues order requiring testing before dairy cattle can move interstate

The USDA has issued a Federal Order requiring lactating dairy cattle to test negative for highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza prior to interstate movement.

During a call with reporters Wednesday, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the order was issued to limit the spread of the virus.  “The mandatory testing for interstate movement impacts and involves dairy cattle,” he said. “We’re going to initially focus on lactating cows, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the order is limited only to lactating counts, but it means that we’ll start there.”

If a cow tests positive for the virus, it won’t be allowed to move until it has a negative test after a 30-day waiting period. Vilsack says there have been incidents where interstate movement has resulted in the spread of the virus. “We’re now seeing cow-to-cow and we’re also seeing cow-to-poultry facilities,” he says. “We just need to constrain movement of potentially infected cattle across state lines.”

The second part of the order will require mandatory reporting of all positive test results in livestock to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Vilsack told reporters during a call on Wednesday that an APHIS microbiologist did identify a shift in an H5N1 sample from a cow in Kansas that could indicate that the virus has an adaptation to mammals. “CDC conducted further analysis of that specimen sequence, and their assessment is and remains a low risk overall,” he says.

Traces of the virus have also been detected in the commercial milk supply. Vilsack says milk remains safe to drink. “You can find particles of the virus after pasteurization,” he says.  “Because pasteurization is not sterilization, it doesn’t necessarily remove every evidence of a virus, but it what it does is it kills the capacity of the virus to be infectious.”

The FDA is doing more extensive nationwide testing, and those results are expected soon.

The National Milk Producers Federation says the USDA’s announcement and actions emphasize the continued concern and focus on the well-being of the animals and those who care for them. NMPF says the presence of the virus in dairy herds, along with dairy farmers’ commitment to animal and human health, makes the USDA’s actions on testing and interstate travel appropriate.

The virus was first detected in dairy cows in March and has been found in more than 30 herds in 8 states.

The Federal Order goes into effect on Monday, April 29, 2024.  APHIS will release additional guidance on Thursday.

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