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USDA takes new steps in efforts to control CWD, bird flu and other animal diseases

Rescued chickens gather in an aviary at Farm Sanctuary's Southern California Sanctuary on Oct. 5 in Acton, Calif. A wave of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu has entered Southern California, driven by wild bird migration.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
The world is currently in the midst of its worst ever outbreak of avian influenza.

News brief: 

As chronic wasting disease and avian influenza spread among wildlife and livestock in the Mountain West, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is targeting new funding at efforts to keep these and other deadly diseases in check.

About $12 million is being made available for state, tribal and local governments to control chronic wasting disease – an always-fatal disease among ungulates like deer and elk that's hitting herds across much of the Mountain West.

The most current spread of chronic wasting disease.
Courtesy of the National Wildlife Health Center.
The most current spread of chronic wasting disease.

The USDA is also allocating $16 million in farm bill funding to protect animal health in agriculture. Much of the focus is on diseases like avian influenza, African swine fever, and foot and mouth disease, according to Jenny Lester Moffitt, the USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

“We always want to keep these foreign animal diseases out of our country, and these new tools that Congress has given us have enhanced our efforts,” Moffitt said during a recent congressional hearing. “We are better prepared to detect, to respond [to] and to eliminate foreign animal diseases because of them.”

Some money from the farm bill will be allocated to federal agencies, but specific funding will also go to the Idaho and Colorado departments of agriculture to focus on initiatives in those states.

Avian flu is a global concern right now as the world sees its worst ever outbreak. The virus has spread to other mammals, including in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, though Moffitt said the current strain poses a low risk to humans.

“We know how to respond quickly so producers can get back to producing food,” she said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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