Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about the importation of exotic animals. My name is Dr. John Clifford and I am the Associate Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
As we all know, the recent incidence of monkeypox in the United States has highlighted how Federal, State, and local agencies must work together to prevent and respond to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.
APHIS’ mission is to safeguard American agriculture. One of the ways we accomplish this mission is to regulate the importation of certain animals and animal products. Under the Animal Health Protection Act, or AHPA, USDA has the authority to take action in order to prevent a disease of livestock from entering into or spreading within the United States.
In carrying out this authority, USDA regulates the importation and interstate movement of animals used for agricultural purposes, such as cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and poultry. We also regulate the importation and interstate movement of certain products made from these animals. In general, animals not used for agricultural purposes - such as prairie dogs, rats, mice, squirrels, and other rodents - are not subject to our regulations, because they do not usually carry diseases that threaten agricultural health. There are two exceptions: if the animal has been inoculated with a disease of agricultural concern for a scientific study or the animal is a vector of a disease of agricultural concern. For example, USDA prohibits the importation of tenrecs, an exotic animal sold as a pet, from Madagascar, because these animals are vectors for foot and mouth disease, a very serious disease of livestock.
In the case of monkeypox, there is no clear scientific evidence that this disease affects livestock. Therefore, our authorities and regulations do not apply to import of animals that may be vectors of this disease. Instead, USDA supported the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service in their effort to shut down imports of animals that could carry the disease.
Our supporting role varied. For example, USDA is also charged with enforcing the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act or AWA. The AWA requires that certain individuals be licensed or registered with USDA and provide their animals with care that meets certain minimum standards. Licensees must also maintain records regarding the veterinary care, purchases, and sales of exotic animals. Under the AWA, all wholesale animal dealers, retail pet stores selling exotic or wild animals, and individuals, including owners, selling exotic animals are required to be licensed with USDA. USDA conducts periodic inspections of licensed facilities to ensure compliance with the AWA.
Because of our relationship with these licensed facilities, USDA was able to assist FDA by locating licensed dealers of exotic animals and assisting in the tracebacks of these animals. USDA also worked with the FDA to distribute information about the ban on the importation, movement, and sale of animals and to conduct a survey on the health of animals in these locations. Our personnel also assisted CDC in the confiscation of animals that were possibly infected. We fielded hundreds of calls from licensees, answering their questions about monkeypox and ensuring the licensees were in touch with CDC and FDA about issues related to the ban.
USDA has also offered to provide follow-up surveillance support to the States. Under the Animal Damage Control Act, USDA is authorized to conduct activities to control wild mammals and bird species that are reservoirs for zoonotic diseases. Under this authority, USDA provides assistance to States and local governments, private individuals, and other organizations in managing wildlife-human conflict. Our experience in this area has enabled us to offer to assist the State of Illinois by collecting samples from rodent and mammal populations around several sites, including landfills and garbage transfer stations. These animals can be tested to see if monkeypox has spread into wild populations. A similar service has been offered to the State of Wisconsin.
So, as you can see, USDA has been able to lend valuable assistance to the effort. We are committed to working with other State and Federal agencies to prevent similar situations in the future.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.