PREPARING FOR THE WORST
March 31, 2014
"If FMD was in our country today, our export market would be gone." states Danelle Bickett-Weddle, the associate director for the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. Danelle is well-educated as not only a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), but also has her Master in Public Health (MPH), her doctorate degree (PhD), and is board certified in veterinary preventive medicine (DACVPM). 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 at the current time. The United States has not had an outbreak for 85-years; the last was an outbreak in California in 1929.
FMD is very difficult to control in animals as it is highly contagious, being shed by infected animals (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats), and is able to survive on 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."
This is where Bickett-Weddle comes in. She works on the Secure Milk Supply Plan (http://securemilksupply.org/), a partnership between industry, state and federal government, and academia developing plans for ensuring milk continues to move to market in the event of an FMD outbreak. "We have to plan for it. If it comes in unnaturally we have to deal with it. If it comes in through terrorist practices we have to deal with it." stated Bickett-Weddle. Her organization, in conjunction with other organizations, strategizes the necessary steps to take should there be a confirmed case of FMD. "Our first step is to assure the people that FMD is not a public health concern and not a food safety issue. It is an animal health issue," she confirms.
Bickett-Weddle discussed the fact that the United States has always had very stringent requirements on imports, and if there ever is a verified case of FMD in the U.S., "our trade partners will shut down our exports." She discussed the necessity of focusing on the domestic market. "Our process is two-fold" she said. "Educating the public that the meat and milk are safe, and making sure the animals do not get infected."
What can and should agricultural producers do? First and foremost, be prepared and informed. Bickett-Weddle communicated that, "A variety of diseases have the potential to come in to the U.S. The best person to protect the animals from exposure is the person caring for the animals." With that being said, she discussed that we as producers need to decide what our business model allows us to do in the event of a FMD outbreak. One thing she outlined was the steps to be taken should any producer notices signs of the disease, the first being to contact your herd veterinarian. "People shouldn't be afraid of the government. There are over 100 foreign animal disease investigations per year, none of which have allowed rumors to surface or have made the market drop," she relates. Bickett-Weddle confirmed that the people handling these investigations know how to do so effectively and confidentially.
According to The Global Foot and Mouth Disease Control Strategy published in June of 2012 by OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) "by the end of 2011, more than 100 countries were not FMD-free. FMD-infected countries remain a permanent threat to free countries." The United States is recognized as FMD-Free without vaccination by OIE. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has, in the past, kept FMD from spreading in to the United States by only allowing importation from countries that are FMD-free without vaccination. Now, however, the USDA APHIS is proposing (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). APHIS has admitted 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." There are parts of Brazil that are declared FMD-free, but there is not adequate protection of these herds from the other herds in areas that are not FMD-free.
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According to the USDA APHIS proposal and risk analysis regarding Brazilian beef imports on the Regulations.gov website, the risk analysis has to cover eight factors: "The scope of the evaluation being requested, veterinary control and oversight, disease history and vaccination practices, livestock demographics and traceability, epidemiological separation from potential sources of infection, surveillance, diagnostic laboratory capabilities, and emergency preparedness and response." The Risk Analysis: Foot-And-Mouth Disease (FMD) Risk from Importation of Fresh (Chilled or Frozen), Maturated, Deboned Beef from a Region in Brazil into the United States published in December of 2013 states that measures "implemented by Brazil are sufficient to minimize the risk of introducing FMD into the United States," but then goes on to state that "The consequences of an FMD outbreak in the U.S. would be extremely high."
Also, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), at the written request of several U.S. Legislators, has reopened the comment period regarding Brazilian imports of beef products. The new comment period ends April 22, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Interested parties can go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2009-0017 and comment regarding this proposal. As of the day this article was written there were less than 600 comments.
For more information regarding Foot-And-Mouth Disease, please go to FootAndMouthDiseaseInfo.org