U.S. livestock herds have not seen foot-and-mouth disease since 1929. But, FMD is not a new and sudden disease challenge. On any given day, you can find the virus active somewhere in the world. Often it involves underdeveloped countries whose natives simply learn to live with the disease, because they have more critical human survival issues to address. You rarely hear about those outbreaks. Even in 1997, when FMD hit Taiwan, it generated little more than a blip on the radar screen.

Britain's FMD outbreak, however, brought the disease to new light. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that Brits and Americans speak the same language. This makes for an effective interview on the national news.

The volume of trade and travel between America and Europe is another reason why FMD there, garners attention here. Most Americans relate to Europeans politically, culturally and scientifically. American's watched the FMD devastation unfold in Europe and could envision a similar episode at home.

The virus has not hit U.S. shores (as of this writing), but it has and will continue to affect your business.

On the positive side, FMD has given producers, allied industry, government officials and the U.S. public, a long overdue wake-up call. As a communicator, I have too often seen foreign animal disease messages receive a collective yawn.

President Bush says he'll commit extra funding to keep the nation free of foreign animal diseases. The Senate has given USDA Secretary Ann Veneman a laundry list of research and reports to complete on the issue. Many state animal health and agriculture divisions have drawn up new prevention plans or revised old ones.

You will pay a price for Europe's FMD outbreak as well. Most significant is the National Pork Producers Council canceling of World Pork Expo. While a year without WPX is not the end of the world, it does end one-quarter of NPPC's non-checkoff income. Remember, with USDA's checkoff settlement, non-checkoff funds are NPPC's only bread and butter. The estimated loss from WPX is $700,000.

That money won't be available to address legislative or regulatory issues. Ironically, much of the foreign animal disease work requires non-checkoff funding.
NPPC took it on the chin when it canceled WPX. The real-world chance of introducing FMD through WPX was slim – especially if live-animal exhibits were banned.

No amount of risk is worth it. But the reality is, holding WPX was not worth the risk of the potential political fallout. Anti-pork industry and anti-checkoff activists would have had a field day pointing fingers at NPPC, spinning the message that holding WPX showed a disregard for the
nation's livestock industries.

Worse yet, WPX would have presented a tremendous opportunity for a group like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to plant the FMD virus and let the pork industry take the blame. Think that sounds paranoid?

Don't. PETA's leader has publicly stated: "I hope it (FMD) comes here."
USDA is working with the National Security Council and the Defense Department to shore up counter-terrorist strategies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has addressed this issue as well.

Hopefully, the United States will never have to deal with an FMD outbreak. Meanwhile there are some points that bear repeating.

  • FMD is a hot topic now, but interest and attention will wane. An apathetic public will only increase the risk, as will growth in international trade and travel. Foreign animal diseases are a permanent threat.
  • You have to take charge of activities that affect your business. That includes building your foreign animal disease knowledge base and biosecurity program.
  • In canceling WPX, NPPC will have less money to tackle issues that all pork industry participants need addressed. Bottom line: NPPC is going to need some financial help.

You can be grateful that FMD hasn't infected U.S. livestock herds for 72 years, but everyone will need to be smarter about the reality of keeping it out in the future.