By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois public agencies gathered with federal and state livestock groups last month to conduct a mock foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak drill at the Illinois Department of Agriculture building.
Representatives from the IDOA, National Pork Board (NPB), Illinois Pork Producers Assoc. (IPPA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois EPA, Illinois Beef Assoc., Illinois Department of Public Health, USDA Veterinary Service and others heard how the deliberate or accidental introduction of a highly contagious foreign animal disease, such as FMD, could have an immediate and drastic effect on agriculture.
“We haven’t had an outbreak in the U.S. since 1929, but it’s a matter of when, not if, a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak occurs in the United States,” cautioned Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of communications for the NPB, at the March 28 event.
“This (exercise) will demonstrate what would happen in an FMD outbreak. We ask you to think about your role in agriculture, your role in public health and in communicating with others about what’s happening.
“Having a unified voice in the pork community is critical. In the pork industry, we have established four response plans. We have a national plan in which we are coordinating with APHIS (USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), USDA and other federal agencies, and we have a state association-specific plan.
“We also have a farm-level crisis plan that helps farmers identify their (FMD outbreak response) plans specific to their situation, their site, their employees and the resources they have at their command. We also have a show-pig crisis plan,” she explained.
The FMD crisis drill featured a unique tabletop exercise training tool for pork producers, veterinarians and stakeholders at the state and local levels.
Scale models of farms, livestock and small-town structures, streets and vehicles helped participants visualize the mock animal disease outbreak scenario. Illinois pork producer Phil Borgic portrayed the farm owner whose herd was afflicted with FMD during the exercise, which took place over seven hours in a large conference room.
“It is crucial that the industry be prepared for an outbreak of FMD should it occur,” said Dr. Mark Ernst, Illinois state veterinarian, who emceed the meeting along with Jennifer Tirey, IPPA executive director. “Having an interactive tabletop exercise where the effects of an outbreak can be seen and the stakeholders fromacross the country can collaborate on a plan is a remarkable asset to Illinois.”
Losses could be staggering Dr. Patrick Webb, director of swine health programs for the NPB, said cumulative losses to the pork and beef industries from a major FMD outbreak could average $12.9 billion per year. Citing a pork checkoff-funded study, he projected potential cumulative revenue losses across the commodities over a decade at $199.99 billion, including $57 billion for pork, $71.23 billion for beef, $1 billion for poultry, $44 billion for corn, $24.9 billion for soybeans and $1.8 billion for wheat.
“Local effects in the loss of the pork and beef industries would equate to about 58,000 full-time jobs,” he added. Livestock provides a bioterrorist with
a “perfect host” for FMD due to the disease’s ability to spread rapidly through herds and buildings, according to Webb, who formerly worked for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and has studied agri-terrorism and animal disease at USDA’s Plum Island research center.
“This is the animal disease that infects the most species. There are seven (primary) types and 60 different subtypes of FMD that affect cloven-hoofed animals,” Webb said. “Sheep are what I call the covert operators for FMD. They don’t really show a lot of signs.
“Pigs are hands-down awesome at producing FMD in the respiratory tract. Cattle are really good at getting FMD through aerosol, and they act as an indicator species; if there is FMD in the air, they will be the first to get it. FMD is kind of an animal-commingling nightmare.”
According to the Center for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH), the most common signs of FMD are fever and the formation of blisters, ulcers and sores on the mouth, nose, tongue, nose, feet and teats. Foot lesions, lethargy, excess nasal discharge and salivation may also be present, depending on the species and level of infection.
Though death is uncommon from the disease, permanent hoof damage, chronic mastitis and other problems will likely call for the humane destruction of the animals.
An uncontrolled FMD outbreak could result in severe trade restrictions placed on U.S. agricultural exports, the CFSPH warns. To help maintain consumer confidence in the event of a major outbreak, the FMD Cross-Species Communications Team was formed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc., NPB, NPPC, Dairy Management, Inc. and the American Sheep Industry Assoc.
The group works in close conjunction with USDA and APHIS to drive FMD preparedness in the United States through unified FMD crisis response plans, consistent FMD messaging, educating industry partners in their communication roles and forming government, academic and industry partnerships.
While containing an outbreak of FMD is essential to protecting the health of the swine, cattle and sheep industries, and an outbreak can be an emotional and difficult time for U.S. farmers and ranchers, the communication team’s leaders stress that consumer education and communication about the disease during and after an outbreak is amongtheir top priorities.
The overriding message to consumers: unlike human hand-foot-and-mouth disease, animal FMD is not a threat to human health; humans cannot be infected with the virus; and the food supply is safe. “FMD is a serious animal disease, but is not a public health or a food safety concern. We don’t want to downplay that our producers are suffering, but we also want to make sure our consumers understand they are not in peril,” said Cunningham, who coordinates with the FMD Cross-Species Team for the NPB.
“FMD will change the course of history in agriculture in the U.S., when it comes to the U.S. This is something that should keep you up at night worrying, and it’s why you are here today.”