The United States is highly vulnerable to the accidental or intentional introduction of foreign or emerging animal diseases, testified James Roth, DVM, Iowa State University, in comments at the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The committee held a hearing July 20 to review biosecurity preparedness and efforts to address agroterrorism.

Although progress has been made, Roth says the United States still has poor infrastructure to prevent, detect, respond or recover from an outbreak of a foreign animal or zoonotic disease. A zoonotic disease affects both animals and humans.

“Agents against animals have been considered a component of nearly every nation-sponsored offensive biowarfare program,” says Roth. “In recent years, there have been numerous examples in other countries of accidental introductions of foreign animal diseases and zoonotic diseases with devastating consequences.”

Many foreign animal diseases can infect people, too, including three key threats: avian influenza virus, Rift Valley fever and Nipah virus.

Roth urged the Senate to support efforts to strengthen the country’s ability to protect public health, animal health and agriculture from disease threats. Steps include rapid development of vaccines and antivirals for high-priority diseases, enhancing facilities for animal health research and disease diagnosis and increasing staffing resources in veterinary and human research labs.

Specifically, Roth suggested funding be allocated for zoonotic diseases in animals. He said steps should be taken immediately to replace outdated facilities at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. He also endorsed the Veterinary Medical Workforce Expansion Act to provide a major investment in veterinary medical colleges to address the shortage in food animal and public health veterinarians.