Public health is the science of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals (https://www.cdcfoundation.org/what-public-health).
There are 17 agencies within the United States Department of Agriculture of which 7 are related to veterinary public health: Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
The goal of AMS is the strategic marketing of agricultural products in domestic and international markets while ensuring fair trading practices and promoting a competitive and efficient marketplace. There are 3 main programs within AMS that are related to veterinary public health: Shell Egg Surveillance Program, DAIRY Program, and Country of Origin Labeling Program.
Shell Egg Surveillance Program results in inspections mandated by the Egg Products Inspection Act (regulated by FSIS). Inspections of shelled eggs enhance fair competition and facilitate marketing of consumer-grade eggs by assuring the proper disposition of “restricted eggs,” (i.e. checked and dirty eggs, leaking eggs, incubator rejects, loss and inedible eggs).
The DAIRY Program facilitates the strategic marketing of milk and dairy products while ensuring fair trading practices and promoting a competitive and efficient marketplace.
AMS is responsible for administration and enforcement of the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program which is a labeling law that requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets, and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods. This program covers: muscle cut and ground meats: beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.
Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)
The GIPSA was absorbed by AMS in 2017 and facilitates the marketing of livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds, and related agricultural products. It also promotes fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture. The Federal Grain Inspection Service provides the U.S. grain market with Federal quality standards and a uniform system for applying them. The Packers and Stockyards Programs (P&SP) enforces the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 (P&S Act), 7 U.S.C. 181 et seq., to promote fair and competitive marketing environments for the livestock, meat, and poultry industries.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the research agency of the USDA with a mission to deliver scientific solutions to national and global agricultural challenges.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, protecting and promoting animal welfare, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. There are 6 operational units within APHIS: Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS), Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ), International Services (IS), Veterinary Services (VS), Animal Care (AC), and Wildlife Services (WS).
Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS)
The BRS unit regulates for certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms that may pose a risk to plant health. Additionally, APHIS coordinates these responsibilities along with the other designated federal agencies as part of the Federal Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology.
Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ)
The PPQ unit safeguards the U.S. borders against the entry of foreign agricultural pests and diseases at airports, seaports, and border stations. Additionally, the unit inspects international conveyances and the baggage of passengers for plant and animal products that could harbor pests or disease organisms. At international airports, detector dogs in APHIS’ Beagle Brigade help find prohibited agricultural materials. At seaports, PPQ officers inspect ship and air cargoes, rail and truck freight, and package mail from foreign countries.
International Services (IS)
The IS unit was the overseas arm of USDA’s APHIS and has officers and staff work in 27 countries worldwide to carry out APHIS’ mission on the global stage. The Sterile Fly Release Programs for the New World screwworm and Mediterranean fruit flies are regulated by IS. Other agencies that work with APHIS-IS internationally on trade and health management issues include United States Department of State, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), United States Trade Representative (USTR), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Centers for Disease Control – Traveler’s Health Advisories.
Veterinary Services (VS)
The VS unit protects and improves the health, quality, and marketability of animals (including various wildlife), animal products, and veterinary biologics by preventing, controlling and/or eliminating animal diseases, and monitoring and promoting animal health and productivity in the United States. Veterinary Services developed a Proposed National List of Reportable Animal Diseases and a draft plan for preparing and responding to emerging animal diseases. Veterinary Services oversees animal health surveillance through National Animal Health Reporting System (NAHRS) and National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS). NAHRS provides information on the presence of reportable animal diseases in the United States whereas NAHMS conducts national studies on animal health and health management practices of U.S. livestock and poultry. From the one health perspective, VS uses funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to understand, identify, and control diseases of concern (including SARS-CoV-2), in a variety of animals and settings. The Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) is apart of VS and regulates veterinary biologics (vaccines, bacterins, antisera, diagnostic kits, and other products of biological origin) to ensure that the veterinary biologics available for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of animal diseases are pure, safe, potent, and effective. CVB also enforces the Virus Serum Toxin Act which was designed to protect farmers and livestock raisers by regulating the quality of vaccines and point of care diagnostics for animals. Veterinarian accreditation which provides accredited veterinarians with the information they need to ensure the health of livestock and animal population in the United States and to protect the public health and well-being is overseen by VS.
Two programs guided by VS is the National Veterinary Stockpile and the National Poultry Improvement Plan. The National Veterinary Stockpile provides the veterinary countermeasures animal vaccines, antivirals, or therapeutic products, supplies, equipment, and response support services that States, Tribes, and Territories need to respond to damaging animal disease outbreaks. The National Veterinary Stockpile aims to deploy within 24 hours of approval countermeasures against the most damaging animal diseases, including Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, Foot-and- Mouth Disease, Exotic Newcastle Disease, and Classical Swine Fever. The National Poultry Improvement Plan was first initiated to eliminate Pullorum Disease (Salmonella pullorum) but was later extended and refined to include testing and monitoring for Salmonella typhoid, Salmonella enteritidis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, Mycoplasma meleagridis, and Avian Influenza. This program encompasses commercial poultry, turkeys, waterfowl, exhibition poultry, backyard poultry, and game birds.
Notable Acts and Laws pertaining to VS is Animal Health Protection Act, Swine Health Protection Act, and 28 Hour Law. The Animal Health Protection Act grants broad authority to APHIS to regulate any live animal at any time it considers necessary to protect American agriculture. The Swine Health Protection Act (SHPA) regulates food waste containing any meat products fed to swine. Compliance with this act ensures that all food waste fed to swine is properly treated to kill disease organisms as raw meat can transmit exotic animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, classical swine fever, and swine vesicular disease. In accordance with the SHPA and Federal regulations, food waste containing meat may only be fed to swine if it has been treated to kill disease organisms. The 28 Hour Law (49 US Code 80502) addresses the transportation of animals, including those raised for food or in food production, across state lines (interstate). Animals cannot be transported by “rail carrier, express carrier or common carrier” (except by air or water) for more than 28 consecutive hours without being unloaded for five hours for rest, water and food.
Animal Care (AC)
The AC unit ensures the humane treatment of animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act, eliminates soring and promote fair competition at events covered by the Horse Protection Act, and provides national leadership on the safety and well-being of pets and other animals in disasters. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) allows AC to issue licenses and registrations to certain animal businesses and research facilities, perform inspections to ensure proper animal care and treatment, provide leadership for determining standards of humane care and treatment of animals used in research, exhibition, sold as pets, or transported in commerce, implement those standards and achieves compliance through inspection, education, and by working closely with States, industry, and non-governmental organizations, conduct training, outreach, education, and other non-regulatory activities through the Center for Animal Welfare. The Horse Protection Act (HPA) is a federal law that prohibits horses subjected to a practice called soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions. APHIS-AC works with the horse industry to protect against such abuse and ensure that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows. APHIS-AC provides technical expertise to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in accordance with the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (PETS Act).
Wildlife Services (WS)
The WS provides Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. Authority is given to WS through the Animal Damage Control Act in 1931which grants broad authority to investigate, demonstrate, and control mammalian predators and rodent and bird pests and authority to enter into agreements with public and private entities in the control of mammals and birds that are a nuisance or are reservoirs for zoonotic diseases. This act provides Federal leadership in managing problems caused by wildlife and provides high quality wildlife damage management services that result in the protection of agriculture, wildlife and other natural resources, property, and human health and safety. WS leads the rabies bait programs and conducts wildlife disease surveillance projects in feral swine (12 diseases), avian influenza, plague, etc. Additionally, WS conducts research at National Wildlife Research Center to find solutions to challenging wildlife damage management problems related agriculture, natural resources, property, and human health and safety.
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) enhances public health and well-being by protecting the public from foodborne illness and ensuring that the nation’s meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly packaged. There are 4 acts that govern FSIS: Federal Meat Inspection Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act, Egg Products Inspection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS provides inspection for all meat products sold in interstate commerce and reinspects imported products to ensure that they meet US food safety standards. The conditions of this act pertains to cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and equines. Recently, the Federal Meat Inspection Act was amended by the 2014 Farm Bill to include “fish in the order Siluriformes”.
Under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, FSIS provides inspection for all poultry products sold in interstate commerce and reinspects imported products to ensure that they meet US food safety standards. The conditions of this act only pertain to poultry.
Under the Egg Products Inspection Act, FSIS inspects all egg products sold in interstate commerce and reinspects imported products to ensure that they meet US food safety standards. This act is limited to products of egg breaking, pasteurization, and freezing, drying, or otherwise preparing egg-only products such as whole liquid egg, dried egg whites, frozen whole egg, etc. However, shell eggs (a.k.a. table eggs) for the consumer are not under FSIS jurisdiction.
Under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the handling and slaughter of livestock are to be carried out only by humane methods. An amendment was added to the act in 1978 to allow FSIS inspectors to stop slaughter activities if they deem an animal is being handled inhumanely. This act covers livestock (cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and goats) but NOT poultry or salmon. As defined by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1902 (2021), there are 2 methods of humane harvesting and handling: all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering. Prior to harvest, humane handling is defined byPart 313-Humane Slaughter of Livestock, 9 C.F.R. § 313.2 (2021): driving of livestock from the unloading ramps to the holding pens and from the holding pens to the stunning area shall be done with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals; electric prods, canvas slappers, or other implements employed to drive animals shall be used as little as possible in order to minimize excitement and injury; pipes, sharp or pointed objects, and other items which, in the opinion of the inspector, would cause injury or unnecessary pain to the animal shall not be used to drive livestock; disabled animals and other animals unable to move shall be separated from normal ambulatory animals and placed in the covered pen; the dragging of disabled animals and other animals unable to move, while conscious, is prohibited; disabled animals and other animals unable to move may be moved, while conscious, on equipment suitable for such purposes; and animals shall have access to water in all holding pens and, if held longer than 24 hours, access to feed.
Exotic animals, such as bison, can be voluntarily inspected by the USDA FSIS if the businesses pay an hourly rate for inspection services under the Agricultural Marketing Act. Additionally, the Agricultural Marketing Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to take whatever steps are necessary to make a product marketable. Some states require all exotic animals to be inspected in order to be sold in commerce.
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) works to improve foreign market access for U.S. products and operates programs designed to build new markets and improve the competitive position of U.S. agriculture in the global marketplace. Additionally, FAS leads USDA’s efforts to help developing countries improve their agricultural systems and build their trade capacity by partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development to administer U.S. food aid programs, helping people in need around the world and providing non-emergency food assistance programs help meet recipients’ nutritional needs and supporting agricultural development and education.
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) serves the basic agricultural and rural data needs of the United States by providing objective, important and accurate statistical information and services to farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and public officials. The data collected by NASS is vital to monitoring the ever-changing agricultural sector and carrying out farm policy. NASS collects data on the agricultural sector by conduct the Census of Agriculture every five years which provides consistent, comparable, and detailed agricultural data for every county in the United States. The last Census of Agriculture was released in 2017.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) was created through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Previously, NIFA was the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) whose authorities, duties, and obligations are transferred to NIFA as stated in the 2008 Farm Bill. The mission of NIFA is to advance knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. The agency does not perform research, education, and extension but helps fund it at the state and local level and provides program leadership in these areas.