All U.S. pork exports would come to a halt for at least six months if a foreign animal disease like African swine fever, classical swine fever (hog cholera) or foot-and-mouth disease infected the U.S. pork industry. That’s under a best-case scenario, meaning the industry is able to immediately identify and control the disease.
In reality, it means billions of dollars in lost sales, and a slow recovery as the industry attempts to court those buyers back to U.S. pork. Today, export sales account for 8 percent of domestic pork production, with intentions to grow that share.
In light of recent foot-and-mouth disease breaks in Korea and Japan packers and exporters are being asked about the U.S. plan to stay free and clear of FADs.
“Our industry is increasingly dependent on the export market,” says Beth Lautner, the National Pork Producers Council’s vice president of science and technology. “Also, as countries become dependent on U.S. pork they are interested in what we’re doing to make sure the diseases don’t enter the United States; and if they do, that we’ll be able to respond rapidly.”
But the potential fallout isn’t just in export markets. Domestically, pork consumption would drop off, at least temporarily. It also would fuel the fire of activists who want pork production in the United States to end. And the economic impact would ripple on to packing plants, allied industry and even Main Street USA.
None of that even addresses the losses you could encounter whether or not your herd became infected.
Preparing for FADs is like buying insurance – you have to do it, it’s expensive and you hope you never have to use it.
“We have to do a mind shift. People think we’ll call USDA and they’ll handle it. That’s not the case today,” says Dave Pyburn, NPPC’s director of veterinary science.
In the face of declining resources, it now requires a coordinated approach from industry, states and the Federal government. Industry means producers, veterinarians and associations involving all of animal agriculture.
Coordinating these efforts is the National Animal Health Emergency Management Steering Committee, on which Pyburn and Lautner serve. The committee’s goal is to have a “world-class” emergency disease program organized by 2005.
States were the first target. State standards for a FAD response plan have been distributed. “It lets state veterinarians know what they ought to have in place,” says Lautner. Right now there is no enforcement tied to those standards.
The committee polled states last year and found 52 percent did not have a response plan. Asked if they had conducted training exercises, 48 percent said no.
Still, the FAD awareness is improving.
Jim Niewold, a pork producer from Loda, Ill., participated in a state exercise earlier this year that looked at a mock foot-and-mouth disease break. “We discussed a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios,” he says. “The importance of these meetings is that people and agencies develop a camaraderie.”
It also helps raise questions that might get lost in the moment. For example: What are the restrictions on moving uninfected pigs from your nursery in a hot zone to your finisher in an uninfected zone?
“The middle of a FAD break is not the time to decide those kinds of critical issues,” says Lautner.
Indemnity payments have the biggest question marks looming. “Market price is not necessarily the right compensation,” says Niewold. “It needs to be based on replacement costs.” He cites sows and boars as prime examples of where market value falls short.
“I realize we’re not going to pay everything to repair a producer’s business,” says Niewold. “But we should try to lessen the financial hardship.”
Currently, uninfected herds are not eligible for indemnity payments. However, in the case of Holland’s classical swine fever break in 1998, the only way the country could contain the disease was to do pre-emptive slaughter. That meant outlining a radius and killing all hogs, infected or not, within that radius.
Industry is the emergency management committee’s next target. It will survey all national animal ag industry groups to get a handle on their FAD preparedness level. As with the states, response plan standards will then be drawn up for the industry. “We have to be able to tell the government that industry will address certain components,” says Lautner. That type of commitment and organization also has helped secure federal and state assistance.
“USDA has asked us as an industry to explore insurance programs to assist with indemnity payments,” says Lautner.
From a federal standpoint many of the necessary response elements are in place, although manpower and funding are always major issues. For Fiscal Year 2000, $627,000 is targeted for emergency programs. Another $5.8 million is in the 2001 Presidential budget, but that’s a long way from being final.
USDA is designing its first emergency animal disease operations center in Riverdale, Md., which would serve as command central in the event of a FAD break.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service monitors all imports entering the country. Along with the U.S. Customs Service, APHIS also monitors people travelling into the United States.
Two Regional Emergency Animal Disease Eradication Organization teams, one based in Raleigh, N.C., and one in Fort Collins, Colo., are on call to lead FAD control and eradication efforts.
APHIS’ Veterinary Services coordinates state animal health officials and would serve as a liaison between state and federal personnel.
Other federal agencies related to emergency response, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would be called upon as needed.
Then there’s Plum Island, where FAD research and education is conducted. It’s also the main lab in the United States with the authority to confirm a FAD diagnosis.
Plum Island recently offered a two-week, on-site, FAD training session for five pork industry veterinarians, of which Pyburn was one. The point was to give them a first-hand look at the “big three" swine diseases. “We hope to make this an on-going program,” says Lee Ann Thomas, director of Plum Island. “It’s critical for veterinarians and producers to know what these diseases look like.”
Still wondering if FADs are worth the fuss? Ponder this: You can get on a plane in Korea and be in the United States on a farm within 20 hours. The FMD virus can easily survive 36 hours or longer on boots, clothes or equipment. “The amount of people that travel in general and the amount of travel within our industry increases the risk,” says Pyburn.
Foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever and classical swine fever can all survive in meat products. Travelers often smuggle such products into the country – some are found and some are not.
Then consider the amount of hogs that move within the U.S. industry today. About 1 million pigs travel from North Carolina to Iowa each month. That doesn’t even include how many pigs move around the Midwest.
That’s why getting a proper diagnosis is critical. “Producers and veterinarians are the first line of defense," says Lautner. “If you see something unusual in your herd, contact your veterinarian. If you’re not satisfied with the diagnosis, push the point.” African swine fever and classical swine fever symptoms are subtle and easily confused with other diseases.
“Don’t be afraid to ask,” says Thomas, “because if you don’t ask, the price the U.S. industry would pay is very high. And there’s no way you’re going diagnose these diseases in the field.”
Besides awareness, you can prevent and control a FAD by implementing and honoring biosecurity procedures on your farm. “The same procedures that protect your herd from domestic diseases will help from an FAD standpoint,” says Pyburn.
FAD awareness and the plan of attack is improving. But the risk is real; FADs don’t honor country or state lines.