Press Release

As Avian Flu Spreads To Cattle, Gillibrand Calls On White House To Strengthen Interagency Coordination To Respond To Outbreak

May 21, 2024

New Strain of Avian Flu Infecting American Cattle For First Time; First Report of Cow-To-Human Avian Flu Transmission in April

As avian flu proliferates nationwide – and with cases now confirmed among humans and cattle – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a virtual press conference to call on the White House to share its coordination efforts to control the outbreak and prepare for potential further spread. The CDC confirmed one case of transmission of avian flu to humans via dairy cows in Texas last month. Avian flu has not been detected in New York’s dairy herds, but given the state’s large dairy industry, Gillibrand is concerned about potential spread to the state and nationwide.

“The recent outbreak of avian flu poses a direct threat to rural America and our public health. New York is home to many poultry and dairy farmers, and avian flu has already forced many farmers to make hard choices that affect their livestock and prices for consumers,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am calling on the White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy to disclose what guidance they have released to agencies and states, what was their initial assessment of the outbreak, and what steps have they taken since the outbreak began. It’s time to use the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen our defenses before it is too late. As the wild bird migration continues this spring, I stand ready to work with our federal partners to contain this outbreak.” 

Gillibrand is calling on the White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy to give information regarding its role in coordinating amongst federal agencies to continue to provide the public and state agencies with up-to-date, and accurate information on the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as H5N1.

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Dr. Friedrichs,

Since January 2022, the United States has grappled with the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) among commercial and backyard poultry flocks. This has led to a cascade of effects, including higher food prices and billions of dollars in indemnity payments to affected farmers. However, of greater concern is the recent spread of the virus to dairy cows and cattle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the March 25, 2024 infection was the first documented case of HPAI spreading to cattle. Subsequently, the CDC confirmed the first human transmission of the disease on April 1, 2024. So far, there have only been 36 dairy herds across nine states that have confirmed cases of HPAI.

The evolving risk of this disease requires a multi-agency response including the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and state and local partners. The spread of this virus to humans through dairy cattle is a novel situation that requires a coordinated effort amongst agencies and the White House, especially at a critical time when our healthcare system is still recovering from COVID19. Recent reporting has strongly suggested that hospitals are not ready to take on another pandemic.

When the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy (OPPR) was established by Congress in December 2022, it was tasked with playing a critical role in the Federal Government’s pandemic preparedness and response efforts. To better understand OPPR’s role in addressing the HPAI outbreak, please provide a response to the following questions no later than June 7, 2024.

  1. What outreach and coordination efforts has OPPR undertaken with state and local entities, as well as international partners, since the first confirmed transmission of HPAI to humans on April 1, 2024?
  2. Has OPPR provided any guidance to federal agencies on ways to streamline the response to the HPAI spread amongst cows and humans?
  3. What was OPPR’s initial assessment of HPAI and how has your assessment and response changed as it continues to spread?
  4. What preparation, coordination, or support does OPPR give agencies in the event of a spreading novel or concerning disease as with the case of HPAI?

I also urge you to work with colleagues in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community to monitor the spread of the outbreak overseas to ensure your office is able to account for any development in the virus abroad.

I look forward to working with OPPR as we address this outbreak at this critical point in time during America’s recovery from COVID-19.