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Federal Agencies Vow to Coordinate Response to 'Agricultural Emergencies'

WASHINGTON - In an effort to further develop integrated federal/state response plans for food and agricultural emergencies, key federal agencies involved in oversight of the agricultural component of the homeland security directive have moved forward by signing a multiagency cooperative agreement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed an agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that helps state departments of agriculture gain technical expertise from Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), FDA, and DHS officials through workgroups and tabletop exercises.

Best practices and guidelines for federal and state food regulatory officials will be developed to address lessons learned from case studies and threat assessments.

The agreement, signed on Sept. 23, will have three phases of implementation, with the first phase starting immediately and phase three concluding by June 2005.

Phase I comprises a workgroup of federal, state, and local officials, which will gather information about existing state emergency response systems and how food/agricultural safety and security emergencies will be handled within the various states.

In Phase II the workgroup will then develop an interagency response plan, with state and local participation, conduct tabletop exercises and pilots to test functionality of the emergency response plan, and refine it based on lessons learned and other input.

In Phase III guidelines will be developed to encourage collaboration between federal regulatory agencies and state and local emergency response efforts. This step would make federal assistance available more quickly and appropriately, to assist local response and recovery efforts.

This agreement advances a homeland security directive set the Bush administration to improve federal, state, and local cooperation through enhanced response and recovery procedures in the event of a disaster.
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