USDA officials recently briefed several agriculture groups on the government’s efforts to protect the United States against highly transmissible forms of avian influenza.

The Bush administration has pledged $7.1 billion -- $91 million is slated for animal agriculture – for those efforts. USDA has implemented numerous precautions to fight the H5N1 highly-pathogenic bird flu, which currently is plaguing Asia. These measures include vigorous surveillance and testing of migratory birds and poultry and restrictions on poultry imports from countries with avian flu.

USDA points out that migratory birds generally don’t spread highly-pathogenic flu viruses and that the U.S. never has had a highly-pathogenic flu outbreak from a virus brought from outside the country. Officials says that if there were a highly-pathogenic flu outbreak in poultry in the U.S., USDA also would begin monitoring and testing pigs, which can act as vehicles for transmitting the avian flu to humans.

Government and meat industry monitoring and testing efforts, along with USDA inspections at processing plants, practically ensure that avian influenza cannot enter the food supply.