Foot-and-mouth disease would destroy U.S. industry |

Foot-and-mouth disease would destroy U.S. industry

Tami Gilbert
for Tri-State Livestock News
Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, S.D. state veterinarian said the risk of introducing FMD into this country is not worth taking. Courtesy photo

Agriculture is crucial to the economic vitality of the United States. The economic impact of beef cattle in this country is $44 billion and the 2013 beef cattle inventory in the U.S. was 89.3 million head according to USDA statistics. Agricultural producers deal with many variables that are beyond their control: weather, market variances, consumer demand, government regulations, and diseases that can wipe out entire livelihoods. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is one of those diseases. While FMD is not usually fatal, it does cause weakness, open sores that can lead to infection, depression, lethargy, decreased mobility, etc. The animals then have to be destroyed to keep the disease from spreading. Because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, producers in any country with a responsible prevention policy will be wiped out in one broad, fatal swipe

Teresa Walker was a farmer’s livestock representative for an area in England in 2001 when she received notice from London that FMD had been found in England. She was the owner of a cow-calf operation and had a few sheep. Her community was predominantly a livestock area with large populations of sheep and dairy cattle and smaller numbers of beef cattle. Walker said, “If you ask me what I did yesterday I probably couldn’t remember, but I can remember every last detail of this episode. It was just the most awful thing to endure.” Teresa received government “orders of destruction” to destroy all of her cloven-hoofed animals – 173 cattle and five sheep. Her animals were slaughtered in a contiguous cull, and although they hadn’t contracted the disease, they were likely going to contract it as her neighbor’s animals were infected.

After the outbreak, “There was a national movement ban on everything so nothing could be sold and feed couldn’t be transported” stated Walker, now a resident of Canada. This meant that the herds that were not in the infected areas could not get necessary feed, and hence many more animals were destroyed because of the feed deficit. Everything was affected, not just agriculture. The tourism industry suffered as people were told not to visit the country. The United Kingdom cancelled concerts, farm shows, and even the general election. The National Audit Office of the United Kingdom totaled the cost to the government at 1.3 billion pounds (1 pound equals $1.65). Further estimates totaled 6 billion pounds taking in to account feed shortages, livestock losses, tourism losses, export losses, etc. “To see your lifetime’s work destroyed is absolutely the worst thing,” shared Teresa. She also had to send her two young children away from home for three weeks to try to slow the spread of FMD.

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (USDA APHIS) Foot-and-Mouth Disease Fact Sheet describes FMD as a highly contagious viral illness that causes blisters in and around the mouth and on the feet of cloven-hoofed animals. FMD is wide-spread in many parts of the world. However, the United States and the rest of North and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and other European countries do not have FMD. In fact, while the United States has had nine outbreaks of the horrendous disease since 1870, the most recent was 85 years ago, which took place in California in 1929.

“My basic concern continues to be that the risk of introducing FMD from South American countries to North America is not justified by the short-term benefits.” – S.D. state veterinarian Dr. Dustin Oedekoven

FMD is very difficult to control as it is so highly contagious and is able to live not only in live animals, but also body fluids and excretions of affected animals, contaminated vehicles, clothes, shoes, hides, containers, etc., for many months if the conditions are right. The APHIS fact sheet also states “If an FMD outbreak occurs here, the disease could spread rapidly to all regions of the country through routine livestock movements – unless we detect it early and eradicate it immediately. The economic impact of unchecked FMD spread could reach billions of dollars in the first year.”

Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota State Veterinarian and Executive Secretary of the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, said, “My basic concern continues to be that the risk of introducing FMD from South American countries to North America is not justified by the short-term benefits.” He goes on to explain that, “on the face, the risk assessments conducted by USDA APHIS show a very low risk of disease reintroduction. However low the risk, it is still a higher risk than we have today, and one which I don’t think we can afford.”

The United States is recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health as FMD-Free without vaccination. USDA APHIS has, in the past, kept FMD from moving in to the United States by only allowing importation from countries that are FMD-free without vaccination. Recently, however, the USDA APHIS proposed (once again) to import fresh and frozen beef products from 14 states in Brazil. They are also proposing to recognize parts of Patagonia, Argentina as free of FMD (http://www.aphis/usda/gov/newsroom/2014/01/pdf/docket_2013_0105.pdf). There are parts of Brazil that are declared FMD-free, but there is not stringent protection of these herds from the other herds in areas that are not FMD-free. APHIS has said that “as long as FMD is endemic in the overall region in South America, there is a risk of reintroduction from adjacent areas into the proposed exporting region.”

If USDA approves the proposal to import beef from Brazil, the U.S. cattle market will be affected. In a November 2012 Reuters article, the Chief Executive of Brazilian-based JBS, the world’s largest multinational food processing company, stated that “The cost of raising an animal in the United States is twice the cost of raising an animal in Brazil.” Additionally Brazil has more than twice as many cattle as the U.S. and their herd is growing while the U.S. herd is shrinking.

According to CNN Money, Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world. However, as Dr. Oedekoven said, “the economic, environmental, regulatory, and labor conditions are certainly different” than those in the U.S. Agricultural products in the U.S. are highly regulated by the government. Will Brazil have to follow the same high standards of environmental regulations, labor regulations, animal health and cruelty regulations, or even animal husbandry regulations that are mandated in the U.S.? Comments on the above proposal are being accepted at!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2009-0017. The agency contact at USDA APHIS is Silvia Kreindel. She can be reached by phone at 301-851-3313. At press time, she had not responded to interview requests.

Author Tami Gilbert is a ranch wife from Northwestern South Dakota. Check out her cattle industry and ranch fun blog at

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