One month after foot-and-mouth disease was discovered in England, two new cases have surfaced in The Netherlands. Northern Ireland, France and Portugal also have reported isolated cases. While some are criticizing the United Kingdom for responding too slowly to the original outbreak, the fact is it reflects the increasingly small world in which we live.
Increased world trade means there is increased potential of exposure and transport when something like FMD does rear its ugly head. Also, today's animal production methods encourage movement between countries – and states.
The FMD virus can survive for months within a site, for 10 to 12 weeks on clothing or in feed and up to one month on hair. FMD can be carried through the air and it can remain viable after drifting for 40 or more miles. It can also survive in meat, including some cured and dried products.
Already suffering from the damage created by BSE, the UK livestock industry is reeling following this FMD outbreak. The tally of FMD cases rises daily (more than 400 as of today), as does the number of animals being destroyed (surpassing 300,000 head). Both infected animals and those located within quarantined areas are being destroyed in an attempt to halt virus spread. Despite opinions, officials have worked tirelessly to get the disease under control, but the fact that it can infect cattle, swine (domestic and wild), goats, sheep, deer and other cloven hoofed ruminants – as well as the virus' ability to survive – increases control challenges.
While USDA has banned animal and animal product imports from Europe, the UK and Northern Ireland, the U.S. agency also has sent assistance. A team of 40 experts is in the EU to monitor, evaluate and assist in disease containment. USDA officials stationed around the world are increasing their monitoring protocols as well.
The economic fallout has begun. The European food industry is valued at an estimated $500 billion, of which the UK represents approximately 15 percent. Within Europe, meat products account for about $90 billion, dairy equals another $80 billion. Early estimates suggest this outbreak could cost British farming alone $4 billion.
While UK imports into the United States don't add up to much, include all of the EU's 15 member nations and you're talking about $300 million worth of meat– two-thirds of which comes from Denmark. Baby back pork ribs account for 60 percent of the Danish shipments (another 40 percent are processed hams, which are not included in the ban). About half of the baby back ribs sold in the United States come from Denmark.
What's more, there is potential long-term fallout from disease breaks such as this. Japan and other countries have closed their doors to EU meat supplies, and once that happens they are often reluctant to open them up again. Then there's the question of whether a country's livestock industry can even recover. In the UK's case, that is questionable.
As unfortunate as it sounds, the United States could benefit from the recent FMD break. Lundy Packing is sending its first major shipment to Japan. More pork will follow with other packers already established in the Japanese market. Kelly Zering, agricultural economist at North Carolina State University, says domestic demand for U.S. pork could increase as well, since Denmark and other countries won't be supplying hams and other specialty pork products. "If an increase in hog slaughter materializes in the fourth quarter, increased U.S. pork exports and reduced imports would reduce the risk of hog prices falling like they did in 1998."
Of course, it all hinges on the fact that the United States can remain free of FMD and other foreign animal diseases. The United States has been free of FMD since 1929. Boarder-control efforts have been heightened, but the fact that more people travel– and travel is faster– than ever before increases the long-term risk for U.S. herds.
USDA has established a toll-free number to keep you updated on the situation in Europe (800) 601-9327. The phone center is staffed with veterinarians and import/export experts from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.