The American Association of Meat Processors is calling for a compensation program, especially for smaller processors, if animal diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or foot-and-mouth disease were to strike the United States.

The group's comments were delivered in conjunction with a report to be submitted to Congress as part of the Animal Disease, Risk Assessment, Prevention and Control Act.

“We believe that small meat processing businesses would be exposed to great economic harm if either BSE or FMD invaded the United States,” AAMP's statement reads. “For that reason, we are asking the Agriculture Department to consider establishing an economic indemnification for small plants that would be harmed if either of these harmful animal diseases were to arrive in the U.S.”

If either disease were introduced into the United States, meat producers would suffer billions of dollars in. Small slaughterers, processors and small producers should be eligible for a program of indemnification from USDA to compensate for the losses they would face from “being stuck” with their animals and unable to sell them, AAMP says.

Because FSIS veterinarians and inspectors are inside slaughter and processing establishments on a continuous basis means, they would be able to detect the diseases in the animals immediately and play a role in providing compensatory payments.

At the same time, USDA might decide to establish product bans in this country as a result of the diseases. As a result, small processors could face economic losses from being unable to sell meat products from sick and infected animals.

“We believe it is important that the meat industry be involved in decisions made by USDA and to prevent foot-and-mouth disease and BSE from getting into animals in the United States,” AAMP says. “At the same time, the meat and poultry industry should play a major role in helping the government to set up contingency plans if cattle, hogs and other animals in the United States become infected with these illnesses.”

AAMP's statement notes that government agencies have done a good job so far but may need to take additional precautions to prevent the introduction of BSE, foot-and-mouth or other transmissible animal diseases.