This is a special year for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Not only are we celebrating USDA’s 150th anniversary, but we are also commemorating our own 40th anniversary. Through the years, it’s likely you’ve heard about or witnessed firsthand some of APHIS’ activities, or seen the hard-won results of our work—perhaps without even knowing it.
Our basic charge is protecting the nation’s food, agricultural, and natural resources, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, which began long before USDA merged two separate regulatory bureaus and created APHIS in 1972.
Did you know that APHIS’ predecessor, the Bureau of Plant Industry, played a critical role in the planting of the Japanese cherry trees skirting the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.? The first shipment of trees in 1910 arrived in the United States heavily infested. Japanese scientists worked with the Bureau to ensure that the second shipment would be pest-free and safe to plant. This time of year, the beautiful show of cherry blossoms reminds us of the importance of our vigilance.
Our important work continues — together with our allies throughout the plant health community, APHIS successfully eradicated the destructive boll weevil from much of the United States, reducing costs to cotton producers and consumers and dramatically reducing the pesticide load on the environment from Virginia to Texas. Using sterile insect technology, we again reduced costs and helped the environment by eradicating fruit fly outbreaks that threatened billions of dollars of citrus production.
Addressing animal health, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many people who dedicated their lives to eradicating foot-and-mouth disease, one of the most dreaded animal viruses, from the United States in 1929 and then again in Mexico in the 1940s. We also eradicated screwworms from Texas to Panama, protecting our cattle industry and human health while also helping our neighbors to the South to develop their own industries.
In 1972, our first year as APHIS, we hit the ground running in response to two major animal disease outbreaks—exotic Newcastle disease in California’s poultry-rich San Bernardino Valley, and hog cholera in the Midwest and Southeast. All told, APHIS and its predecessors have played critical roles in eradicating 14 serious animal diseases from the United States. Brucellosis and tuberculosis, once common scourges throughout the country, are now respectively essentially eradicated and only rarely occur. The animal and human health benefits of that success have been enormous.
By eradicating and controlling disease, our cooperators and hard-working employees helped preserve markets and protect the health of U.S. livestock, ensuring healthy, safe, and abundant food supplies. And APHIS has also worked hard to prevent destructive pests and diseases from entering our shores in the first place—a challenging job in this era of fast-moving, global trade and travel.
Since 1972, APHIS has seen many “firsts”, and we’ve taken on new challenges in response to changing technologies and needs. Did you know that, in 1986, APHIS licensed the world’s first vaccine—for swine pseudorabies—derived by recombinant DNA technology? In 1987, APHIS again led the way by adopting new regulations for importing or moving genetically engineered organisms that are or could be plant pests. This has allowed the safe development of new technologies that truly promise to help feed a hungry world in this and the coming centuries.
Over the years, we’ve expanded our services in managing wildlife damage—developing environmentally friendly, nonlethal methods to scare wildlife away from airports and other facilities, and distributing more than 5 million oral bait vaccines annually to fight rabies in raccoons, gray foxes, and coyotes, thereby protecting both human and livestock health.
We’ve also played a key role in responding to increasing public concerns about the treatment of animals. Last year, APHIS conducted more than 4,100 inspections of zoos and other exhibitors, commercial transporters, dealers, researchers, and wholesale breeders to make sure that they are properly caring for their animals as required by the Animal Welfare Act. We have since helped communities better prepare for disasters by recognizing that people will not abandon their pets during emergencies and helping coordinate shelters for people and their pets.
In recent years, APHIS has been using its expertise to assist with natural disasters, wherever and however we can. Following Hurricane Katrina, we rescued more than 300 people from the New Orleans floodwaters using airboats. Assisting with the rescue and sheltering of displaced livestock, pets, and research animals, we helped save more than 11,000 small animals and almost 3,000 large animals from storm-ravaged areas.
Through these and countless other—often unsung—actions, APHIS honors our past, as we look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The first 40 years have laid the groundwork for phenomenal successes to come.