Rename FMD?

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Words, as we know, have the power to foster understanding and also the power to confuse or mislead. In the realm of disease, that confusion was evident during the 2010 pandemic of H1N1 influenza, when use of the term “swine flu” damaged pork demand as consumers feared they could contract the disease from pork.

During the recent Foot and Mouth Disease Symposium (FMD) held in conjunction with the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s annual conference, California dairyman and cheese producer Chuck Ahlem made the case for renaming FMD, which he referred to as hoof and mouth disease (HMD), a term that has been in use, but is less common.

Ahlem is owner of Hilmar Cheese, which began in 1984 as a means for his family’s dairy to add value to their high-quality Jersey milk. Since then, the operation has grown to include 240 cooperating dairies and ships cheese and other dairy products across the United States and internationally. The company brings in 200 tanker loads of milk every day, so naturally they are concerned about the possibility of an FMD (or HMD) outbreak interfering with shipments. The company has a disease-response plan in place including biosecurity measures on the dairy, full traceability for cattle and a system for contacting every employee quickly with a single phone call or e-mail.

Ahlem’s suggestion for changing the terminology stems from potential confusion between FMD, which is not transmissible to humans, and “hand, foot and mouth disease,” which affects humans but not animals. The similarity in terminology will create confusion, he says, leading to lost demand for meat and dairy products in the case of an outbreak. The term “hoof and mouth disease” creates an association with animals, perhaps reducing concerns over human illness.

The concerns over consumer confusion are justified. Earlier in the conference, Gay Miller, DVM, PhD, from the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine cited research showing 72 percent of U.S. consumers think FMD affects humans, 61 percent believe they could contract the virus from meat and 42 percent say they would stop drinking milk in the event of an FMD outbreak.

Unfortunately, the foot-and-mouth terminology is well established. Even if the industry uniformly decided to begin using HMD, we probably would have as much success convincing the media and the general public as the pork folks did when they tried to convince them to use “H1N1” instead of “swine flu.”

The rename could be worth discussing though, as the difference in one word might change consumer perceptions of the nature of the disease.

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Kentucky  |  May, 08, 2013 at 09:55 AM

Good suggestion. I agree that HMD is more exact. I remember growing up, that whenever the topic came up (which wasn't often, I admit) it was Hoof, not Foot. I had to learn FMD later in life. However, changing the terminology won't just bump up against an obstacle from the public, but also internationally. The world-renowned OIE, based in Paris and in existence since the 1920s, uses FMD globally (and not only in English). Changing the term on a global scale would be a massive undertaking. But yes, it is well worth a serious discussion.

Jay O'Brien    
Amarillo  |  May, 08, 2013 at 04:48 PM

Chuck Ahlem is absolutely right! The disease was historically named HMD. Last year I talked to NCBA about doing the same thing. I am afraid I did not get very far. No one can give a good reason the disease was renamed FMD or not to try to get it renamed. I am afraid it is just lack of energy and focus in our staff. USDA claims they are concerned about the loss of demand, but they will not work on this unless our trade organizations push them. Let's all push together.

California  |  May, 09, 2013 at 04:25 PM

It is named Foot and Mouth Disease, and not Hoof and Mouth Disease because animals with hooves- horses, donkeys, zebras, - are not affected by the disease. It is the animals with cloven feet - pigs, cows, sheep that are affected by the disease.

Steven Immerblum DVM    
Goldens Bridge NY  |  May, 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM

The name of the disease should remain Foot and Mouth Disease because it is a viral disease and viruses can not replicate without being in living tissue...and there are no live cells in the hoof


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