Dr. Charles A. Gipson, Deputy Administrator, USDA-APHIS, extended the current Operating Agreement with industry HIOs until February 15, 2004. The 45 day extension was issued as of December 31, 2003.

The purpose of the extension was to allow HIOs more time to work with the USDA on formulating a new Operating Plan. The USDA intends to complete its work on the new plan by late next week and will then forward it to the HIOs.