The House of Representatives has unanimously passed an amendment to restore funding to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to protect the nation’s food supply from foreign animal diseases.

Rep. Corey Gardner (R-CO) offered the amendment after the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee proposed eliminating $4.4 million, representing all of NAHLN’s funding, from the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative for fiscal year 2012.

Supportive groups included the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians and other agriculture and food industry experts, who warned that cutting funding to the 59-member NAHLN laboratory network could put the nation’s health at risk.

Many network laboratories at U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine conduct food animal surveillance, respond to producers’ calls, and analyze tens of thousands of samples annually for threats such as E. coli, which has the potential to spread to humans.

Different laboratories have different specialties to help protect people from avian influenza, swine influenza virus and mad cow disease.

NAHLN labs also have upgraded facilities that meet biocontainment and physical security requirements in the event of a bioterrorism attack.

“In the event of an emergency, NAHLN can mobilize its network to test large numbers of samples rapidly, process diagnostic tests and share information,” explains Marguerite Pappaioanou, AAVMC executive director. “We applaud the House, and especially Rep. Gardner, for realizing the critical role NAHLN plays in protecting our nation’s food supply.”

The AAVMC will also work collaboratively with its partners to ensure the Senate retains funding for NAHLN as lawmakers consider fiscal year 2012 appropriations for the Agriculture Department.