Foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Japan, Korea and Russia earlier this summer are sobering reminders of the threat that foreign animal diseases pose to the United States.
Could FMD surface here? The answer is an unsettling “yes, it could.”
While African swine fever and classical swine fever are significant threats to the U.S. pork industry, it’s foot-and-mouth disease that represents the greatest risk to the entire livestock industry.
With international transport of meat and live animals commonplace today, the risk of FMD surfacing in the United States may be higher than ever before.
“The (introduction) of a foreign animal disease is more a probability than a possibility and could occur just as easily in the middle of the country as at one of our borders,” according to the U.S. Animal Health Association.
Fortunately, the U.S. pork industry has been building its FMD crisis plan for nearly 15 years. “Overall, the nation’s preparedness is very good,” says Corrie Brown, DVM, University of Georgia. “Federal funding has assisted many states to conduct test exercises, which has really improved our overall readiness.”
Veterinarians have a heightened awareness of what foreign animal diseases look like, which would allow for a rapid response. “However, there may be room for improvement at the producer level,” Brown adds. “Producer education courses and on-going awareness training in foreign animal diseases for people who have contact with animals every day would certainly help in our preparedness.”
FMD is highly contagious and infects cloven-hoofed animals including pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, deer and bison. While FMD vaccines are available, successful protection requires that the vaccine be specific to the virus strain that an animal encounters.
The Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, is currently testing a new FMD vaccine at the Plum Island research facilities. The vaccine, awaiting conditional licensing by USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics, offers significant advantages over conventional FMD vaccines.
“The new vaccine contains only a portion of the FMD virus genome and cannot by itself cause the disease,” says Marvin Grubman, lead scientist for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, who’s overseeing the vaccine’s development along with DHS and GenVec, in Gaithersburg, Md. “Since it’s not infectious it does not require an expensive, high-containment facility for production like the current vaccines.”
In development for 12 years, the new vaccine offers another important advantage over conventional vaccines that’s critical during a disease outbreak. “Vaccinated animals can be readily and unequivocally distinguished from infected animals using currently approved diagnostic tests,” Grubman says.
Once approved, the vaccine would enhance preparation and readiness if battling an FMD outbreak is required. A recent FMD scare in Canada, which proved negative, has reminded the U.S. livestock industry that it must remain on high alert.
“We can never be too cautious when safeguarding our livestock and livelihoods from a foreign animal disease such as FMD,” according to Patrick Hooker, New York agriculture commissioner. Hooker wants to see an increase in awareness among farmers and livestock producers to keep foreign animal diseases out of the United States.
For pigs, FMD symptoms include blisters and ulcers on the snout, in the mouth and on the feet, usually between the toes or where the hoof meets the skin.
“Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious and has the ability to spread rapidly,” says Patrick Webb, DVM, National Pork Board’s director of swine health programs. “There could be a large percentage of our herd affected by it, and we could immediately lose our ability to export U.S. pork.”
Rapid diagnosis, containment and control are essential. “We want producers to contact their veterinarians if they see any symptoms that are out of the ordinary on animals, such as blisters on the nose and feet,” Webb says.
Premises identification, pre-harvest traceability and the pork industry’s national surveillance plan are crucial factors in responding rapidly to a potential outbreak. Producer cooperation also is essential. “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,” Hooker adds.
“This is yet another opportunity to learn from the unfortunate experience of others that an ounce of prevention can be worth more than a pound of cure,” says Todd Johnson, DVM, emergency coordinator for USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “If preventive measures fail, however, all livestock producers need to know how to recognize, report and respond to FMD.”
On-farm biosecurity is critical to preventing outbreaks of any disease, and FMD is no exception. Here are some precautions you can take to help prevent a foreign animal disease from entering your farm.
Keep foreign visitors from FMD-positive countries off 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 affected countries onto your farm.
General Biosecurity Practices:
When accepting new animals onto an operation, be sure that the animals’ health status and origin are clearly known.
New animals or returning animals should be housed separately from the rest of the herd for at least two weeks.
Feeding restaurant or foodservice waste is a high-risk practice in regard to introducing or spreading foreign animal diseases.
All footwear should be disinfected before entering and upon leaving an animal-housing area.
Service vehicles, such as feed and livestock trucks, must be prevented from driving through areas where animals are housed or where feed is stored.
While everyone witnessed the negative impact that Novel H1N1 influenza had on the foreign markets and the U.S. public, packers and producers, it pales in comparison to a foreign animal-disease diagnosis such as FMD.
Industry Plans FMD Response
What if you received news that foot-and-mouth disease had been diagnosed in the United States? National Pork Board officials, veterinarians, pork producers, emergency responders and government officials assembled recently to discuss emergency preparedness, policies and procedures to follow in the event of a foreign animal-disease outbreak.
Questions addressed included: What public officials would be in charge? What would happen to producers, workers and communities in the outbreak area? Where would producers go for information? What about people and traffic flow in and around the area?
For illustration and discussion purposes attendees turned their attention to a large tabletop model illustrating a typical farming community as various infection scenarios were developed.
The pork industry must have detailed action plans in place to address such things as identifying the disease zone and halting animal movement. Participants received a crash course in communication with local and federal authorities, how to prioritize duties and how to manage quarantine zones, ring vaccination and other disease-containment methods.
They also discussed animal euthanasia options, identification of carcass burial zones and composting regulations.
The National Pork Checkoff provides these drills, even taking them on the road, to help all pork producers understand their role in being prepared and knowing how to respond in the event of a foreign animal-disease outbreak.