Livestock producers will now have a new resource to combat foot and mouth disease (FMD). Last Friday, June 30, President Trump signed the “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act” into law. The legislation calls for the coordination of a program from the Department of Homeland Security to defend U.S. food, agriculture, and veterinary systems against agroterrorism.
Agroterrorism is defined as “the deliberate introduction of an animal or plant disease for the purpose of generating fear, causing economic losses, or undermining social stability.” Groups that could engage in agroterrorism might include international terrorists, domestic terrorists such as antigovernment groups, militant animal rights groups, economic opportunists seeking financial gain, or disgruntled employees seeking revenge, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice.
Through a joint effort of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health, foot and mouth disease (FMD) has been better controlled over the last five years. New legislation from the U.S. will continue to protect livestock.
Photo by FAO/OIE Working Group: B. Tekola, FAO; M. Stone, OIE
FMD is the most commonly mentioned disease in discussions about agroterrorism because it spreads rapidly and has potential to cause great economic damage. The disease is 20 times more infectious than smallpox, and while humans can’t contract the disease, the pathogens can survive in human lungs for up to 48 hours. This allows plenty of time to transmit the virus to animals.
Since FMD is not harmful to humans, it would be easy for agroterrorists to disseminate it among livestock without the hassle of protective equipment. And once a group of animals is infected, they can spread the disease to other animals from up to 50 miles away, if the pathogen becomes airborne.
A 2015 estimate from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suggested consumer and producer losses from an FMD outbreak could add up to $188 billion. If a high capacity emergency vaccination program were to be instituted, losses could be reduced to $56 billion, a mere third of the impact otherwise.
The National Pork Producers Council has been advocating for federal funding for an FMD vaccine bank as a priority for the 2018 Farm Bill. Click below to read more about the effects of FMD and why a vaccine bank is so important: