Anyone who has traveled overseas knows that returning to the United States is a mixed bag of experiences, especially when it comes to moving through customs. The effort, and the potential smoothness or hassles involved, depends largely on the agent that you happen to draw; how much the person likes or hate his or her job, whether the drive to work was easy, whether the person’s home life is trouble-free.

For our part, most travelers are anxious to move through the airport quickly because no matter how well a vacation or business trip went, you’re ready to get home as soon as possible.

Back in 2001, after 911, I was among a group of agricultural representatives who traveled to Japan and China on a whirlwind, 8-day trip. While we didn’t visit livestock production units, we did tour several wet markets and a live slaughter-hog market in China. Upon returning to the states on a Saturday afternoon, the Chicago customs agents were lackluster in their inspection process, even though a few of us specifically flagged to their attention that we had been around livestock. What’s worse, a few in our party didn’t declare those visits, as they “didn’t want to be delayed.”

It’s that scenario that makes me lose sleep at night whenever I hear of a “foreign animal disease” outbreak, such as foot-and-mouth disease, in another country. We’ve learned long ago how small, and flat, today’s world is in terms of people and product movement. One only has to look back at last year’s Novel H1N1 influenza virus to see how broadly and quickly an ailment can spread, and the fall out for U.S. producers. 

In recent weeks, FMD surfaced in China in hogs (640 reported cases, and let’s face it, that country is not exactly known for its accurate reporting.) South Korea culled more than 30,000 animals at more than 225 farms due to FMD. Japan also had an outbreak and all pigs, beef cattle and dairy cows in the affected areas were culled, bringing the number to about 205,000 head. 

African swine fever is swine-specific disease that’s still found throughout the world. classical swine fever, also known as hog cholera, is as close as Mexico and the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (which includes Haiti). There’s also exotic Newcastle disease in chickens, Rhinderpest in cattle, and others.

None of those FADs are in the United States and we all need to work to keep it that way. Many U.S. agricultural companies, veterinarians and consultants are doing business in these countries and elsewhere. Let’s hope they’re more conscientious than most U.S. Customs Agents.

This week, pork production representatives across the globe will converge in Des Moines, Iowa, for the World Pork Expo. While such an event raises the importance of being aware of and enforcing biosecurity protocols, all livestock producers should monitor their practices and their animals regularly.

In one of the FMD cases, a pork unit worker received a bundle of clothing and work boots from home (in a different region), and wore them on the job. As a result, FMD was introduced and transmitted to the production site and spread to neighbors.
James McKean, DVM, Iowa State University, says it’s easy to overlook basic biosecurity protocols like clothing and footwear changes and equipment cleaning, but that’s all the more reason to make it a priority, especially when dealing with foreign visitors or workers. Be aware that food can carry such diseases into a country as well.
Now, biosecurity measures vary across species, and there’s no shortage of guidance. Your industry associations and/or veterinarian can assist in reviewing your on-farm program. There also are fact sheets available and additional measures farmers can take. Some basic steps include:

  • International travelers should always declare to customs if they’ve been on a farm, in contact with livestock or if they possess any meat, dairy and other animal products.
  • Whenever a new animal moves onto a farm, be sure that both its health status and origin are known.
  • New animals or animals returning to a farm should be separated from the rest of the herd for at least two weeks. 
  • When possible, exclude foreign visitors from your farm for at least five days after they arrive in the United States.
  • Ask foreign visitors to provide information about recent farm visits and animal contacts.
  • Clothing worn on farms in other countries should always be washed in hot water and footwear should be disinfected before entering your farm. 
  • Do not allow animal products, clothes, luggage, cameras and other items from FAD affected countries onto your farm.
  • Discourage foreign visitors from walking through feed mangers and having any physical contact with animals.
  • Farms should have one common entrance/exit with disposable boots or a disinfectant footbath provided there.
  • All footwear should be disinfected before entering and after leaving an animal housing area.
  • Keep vehicles, such as milk, feed and livestock trucks, from driving through areas where animals are housed or feed is stored.

Certainly if an FAD entered the United States meat and poultry export markets (depending on the disease) would slam shut. While these diseases have no spillover to humans, you can expect that domestic consumers will find it all very unsettling and question the quality of U.S. meat and poultry as well. Everyone will feel the impact, it won’t matter if your herd, or even species, is infected or not.

I’m not even going to begin to paint the picture here of the costly and extended monitoring and clean up efforts that will follow. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that it would be devastating.

“The current FMD outbreak in Japan should be a wake-up call to all of our livestock producers, as well as the businesses that serve them,” said the New York animal health commissioner.

It is your responsibility to fend off foreign animal diseases. Don’t take it lightly.