Live animal imports into America: agencies need better collaboration to reduce the risk of animal-related diseases

The United States legally imported more than 1 billion live animals from 2005 through 2008. With increased trade and travel, zoonotic diseases (transmitted between animals and humans) and animal diseases can emerge anywhere and spread rapidly.

That’s a lot of animals.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded the statutory and regulatory framework for live animal imports has gaps that could allow the introduction of diseases into the United States. Specifically:

(1) The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has regulations to prevent the importation of live animals that may pose a previously identified disease risk to humans for some diseases, but gaps in its regulations may allow animals presenting other zoonotic disease risks to enter the United States. CDC has solicited comments in advance of a rulemaking to better prevent the importation of animals that pose zoonotic disease risks.

(2) The Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has regulations to prevent imports of nonnative live animals that could become invasive.

GAO recommends that the Secretaries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and the Interior develop a strategy to address barriers to agency collaboration that may allow potentially risky imported animals into the United States and jointly determine data needs to effectively oversee imported animals.