When it comes to emergency management, U.S. agriculture has been a relative newcomer to the effort. But programs are under way to bring agriculture into emergency plans, from the state to the county level.
While many states already have county-based plans that includes agriculture, but many more don´t, said Billy Dictson, with the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University. Speaking at workshops in Wichita and Liberal, Kan., Dictson said, "One thing that really concerned us was in 3,000-some counties across the country, most of them are silent on agriculture."
The "Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning"—or S-CAP-- workshops brought agricultural producers, county emergency managers, veterinarians, law enforcement, Extension agents and others together to identify agricultural assets in counties and ensure those assets were addressed in county emergency plans.
The workshops were presented by the Extension Disaster Education Network, a collaborative multi-state effort by Extension services across the country to improve services to citizens affected by disasters; Kansas State University and Farm Credit Association assisted. The S-CAP workshops are funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and are being presented in states nationwide.
The workshops are designed to build capacity to handle agricultural issues during an emergency or disaster, to improve networking among stakeholders who can plan for and respond to emergencies, and to develop community agrosecurity planning teams who will establish or enhance agrosecurity components within existing local emergency operations plans.
"After 9-11, greater concern surfaced about the safety of our food supply," Dictson said. "Remember, every plane, including crop dusters, was grounded for several days after 9-11. At that time, ag didn´t really have a seat at the national `table.´ If we ever have a foreign animal disease incident introduced, it will far surpass the devastation caused by 9-11."
The threats to agriculture can be accidental, natural or intentional, Dictson said. He referred to notes found in an Afghanistan cave that listed plant and animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, hog cholera, rice blast and maize rust.
"If lists of agents that can be used against the U.S. food and agriculture industry are in the hands of state-sponsored terrorists, they are there for no good reason," Dictson said.
Of course diseases might be brought in, intentionally or not, via illegally imported livestock or products, Dictson said. "Animal smuggling is second only to drug smuggling in this country."
Andrea Husband, agrosecurity program coordinator at the University of Kentucky, reminded workshop participants about the financial and emotional toll of the United Kingdom’s 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
The direct economic impact from that incident totaled about $3.3 billion (in U.S.), with another $8.3 billion in lost tourism and related industry revenue, she said. By the end of the 221-day outbreak, more than 6 million animals were euthanized.
"But it doesn´t take a big outbreak to have a huge economic impact," Husband said. She cited the financial impact sparked by one cow confirmed to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Washington, including beef export losses that ranged from $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion.
"Domestic cattle prices dropped 16 percent in the first week alone and international trade restrictions still exist," she said.
Source: Kansas State University