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FDA Drafts Plans for a Pandemic-Like Outbreak of Bird Flu

May 10, 2024
‘We gotta have testing, gotta have antivirals and we need to have a vaccine ready to go,’ Commissioner Califf told the Senate Agriculture Committee this week.

Food safety authorities are drawing up plans for testing, antivirals and vaccines in case the current wave of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, becomes a pandemic -- and especially if it spreads to more humans, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told the Senate Agriculture Committee on May 8.

“This virus, like all viruses, is mutating,” he told the senators, according to a report by the Daily Mail. “We need to continue to prepare for the possibility that it might jump to humans. [The] real worry is that it will jump to the human lungs where, when that has happened in other parts of the world ... the mortality rate has been 25%.”

Califf emphasized the risk of HPAI spreading to humans was low, with only two cases detected in people in the U.S. so far — including a Texas man working around dairy cattle. And there have been no reports of the virus passing from one person to another.

Late last year, bird flu began appearing among chicken and turkey flocks, and late March saw the apparent first occurrence of it spreading to another species of farm animal, dairy cattle, in several states.

In late April, FDA said its national sampling program found inactive fragments of avian influenza in about 20% of pasteurized milk in retail stores, as well as cottage cheese and sour cream. But the agency emphasized that pasteurization appears to kill the virus.

So far, it hasn’t appeared in beef cattle, although USDA has begun testing ground beef in several states where bird flu has appeared. No signs of it have been detected.

“We gotta have testing, gotta have anti-virals and we need to have a vaccine ready to go,” Califf told the Agriculture Committee, according to the Daily Mail. “We have been busy getting prepared for if the virus does mutate in a way that allows it to jump into humans on a larger level.”

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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