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Legislation helps prevent spread of foreign animal diseases

Photo by James Tourtellotte, CBP CBP beagle search FDS.jpg
A CBP agricultural canine team spots contraband food at the Miami International Airport.
Bicameral bill would improve dog importation standards and prevent diseases from unknowingly entering the U.S.

New legislation to combat the spread of foreign animal diseases entering the United States was introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tina Smith, D-Minn. The Healthy Dog Importation Act would expand USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services program by providing additional tools to monitor and safeguard the health of dogs being imported into the country.

If passed into law, USDA and other federal agencies would receive the necessary resources to responsibly screen the large number of dogs entering the U.S. each year. It would also require every imported dog to have a certificate of veterinary inspection from a licensed veterinarian confirming the dog is of good health and not a risk to spread diseases that could endanger animal and public health. The proposed legislation would create an electronic database containing documentation and import permits to help streamline federal oversight between the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, CDC, and Customs and Border Patrol.

Recently, Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., co-chairs of the Veterinary Medicine Caucus, reintroduced it in the House of Representatives.

“Maintaining animal health is critical to our nation’s overall public health goals. It’s important that we work to stop the spread of diseases that can hurt both animals and humans,” Grassley says. “This commonsense proposal will expand an already existing program to ensure that all dogs entering the country are healthy and not at risk of spreading dangerous diseases.”

“COVID-19 is a devastating example of why the Healthy Dog Importation Act is so important. The pandemic showed us that human and animal health are inextricably linked, and that we must take proactive steps to prevent future health emergencies,” Smith says. “Mitigating the spread of foreign diseases in dogs will help keep domestic and wild animals healthy. It could also help prevent illnesses and disease outbreaks in people.”

In addition to expanding the USDA-APHIS program, the Healthy Dog Importation Act would require every imported dog to have a certificate of veterinary inspection from a licensed veterinarian. The health certificate must certify that the dog has received all required vaccinations and demonstrated negative test results. This legislation would also create an online database containing documentation and import permits to ensure dogs entering the U.S. are being properly screened. This will also allow further cooperation and communication between APHIS, the CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

CDC estimates that up to 1.245 million dogs are imported into the U.S. each year. For the estimated 113,000 imported from countries that are at a high-risk for rabies transmission, CDC requires a rabies vaccination certificate, but no other health documentation or identification. For the 950,000 dogs imported from rabies-free, low-risk or moderate risk countries, CDC requires no documentation or vaccination. Recently, the CDC implemented a temporary suspension of dogs imported from countries that are considered high-risk for rabies – highlighting the need to strengthen dog importation requirements in all U.S. ports of entry.

“The evidence for the need to permanently improve dog importation standards is overwhelming,” says Dr. José Arce, American Veterinary Medical Association president. “The recent CDC notice has emphasized the necessity to ensure dogs entering the country are in good health and not a risk to spread dangerous diseases. In order to protect public health, we must enact legislation that equips the federal government with the necessary resources to properly screen these dogs. The AVMA is dedicated to working with lawmakers and stakeholders to ensure this bill crosses the finish line.”

COVID pandemic revealed vulnerabilities

The ongoing fight to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has increased public health officials concern regarding zoonotic diseases, which can be spread between animals and humans. The CDC reports that 60% of all infectious diseases and 3 out of 4 emerging diseases such as coronaviruses can be spread from animals to humans. USDA-APHIS has separate regulatory authority over dogs imported for resale. However, USDA’s import requirements apply to only half of a percent of all imported dogs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the disruption that zoonotic diseases can cause to society’s ability to fully function. The Healthy Dog Importation Act would neutralize the threat of unhealthy dogs entering the country and give federal agencies the tools necessary to implement a robust inspection system within all U.S. ports of entry for dogs. Now is the time to improve our dog importation regulations to help prevent the next public health crisis,” says Dr. Randy L. Wheeler, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association’s executive director.

“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Senators Grassley and Smith, whose prescient and common-sense actions today can protect U.S. public and animal health and avoid a preventable tragedy in the future,” adds Sheila Goffe, vice president, government relations for the American Kennel Club. “No responsible person wants to bring an unhealthy and contagious dog into the country. By requiring all canine imports -- from show dogs to rescue pets -- to have a valid and verifiable health certification, the Healthy Dog Importation Act brings U.S. standards into line with most other countries and demonstrates U.S. commitment to responsible care and healthy environments for dogs -- and those who love them.”

“The pandemic shows the need to better protect the U.S. from highly contagious pathogens and zoonotic diseases,” says Patti Strand, founder and president of National Animal Interest Alliance. “For years, public health agencies have documented cases where imported dogs have brought in rabies, new strains of canine influenza, leptospirosis, screwworm, and other diseases and pests that threaten animal and human health. While we applaud the Centers for Disease Control for taking steps to reduce the risk of rabid canines entering the US from high-risk rabies countries, we are also concerned about the 90% of dog imports that remain unchecked. The Healthy Dog Importation Act is necessary to ensure that all dogs brought in from overseas are healthy and disease-free before entering the United States.”

New USDA safety measures

On Friday, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced a federal order establishing additional requirements for dogs imported into the United States for resale from ASF-positive countries.

Starting August 16, 2021, importers of dogs into the United States for resale from a region in which ASF exists or is reasonably believed to exist, must submit written documentation verifying completion of the following requirements:

  • The dog(s) and their shipping crate/container must be free of dirt, wood shavings, hay, straw, or any other organic/natural bedding material.
  • All bedding that accompanies the dog(s) during transit must be properly disposed of at the U.S. post-entry point(s) of concentration.
  • Each dog must have an ISO-compliant microchip implanted, and the individual microchip number must be verified immediately before each animal is bathed.
  • Each dog must be bathed at the U.S. post-entry point(s) of concentration within 2 calendar days of arrival in the United States. Bathing must be documented in the Veterinary Services Dog Import Record.

Ensuring ASF and other foreign animal diseases don’t enter the country is one of NPPC top priorities. Earlier this year, NPPC sounded the alarm on the potential for imported rescue dogs to serve as disease carriers from their bedding, crates or coats, becoming a lead issue during its spring Legislative Action Conference. “Each year, several thousand dogs enter the country for resale or adoption. If even one of these animals carried ASF into the country, it could put the U.S. swine herd and other livestock in jeopardy and have disastrous consequences for our nation’s agriculture sector,” says NPPC Chief Veterinarian Dr. Liz Wagstrom. “We thank USDA for implementing these additional safety measures to prevent the spread of ASF to the United States,” she added.

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