By Katie Fisher, government relations intern, National Farmers Union
The Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing this morning about foot and mouth disease. National Farmers Union members place a tremendous amount of emphasis on maintaining domestic animal health. NFU even adopted a special order of business on animal disease protection at its annual convention last year.
Chairman Rouzer opened up the hearing by stating the severity of the problem and linking it to the issue of national security. He said, “The security of our nation depends on our ability to ensure that: 1) the food coming into our country are disease and pest free, 2) we have the ability to guarantee that farmers and ranchers have the needed policy tools in place to continue producing food and fiber, and 3) depends on ability to meet nutritional needs of both those within our borders and outside of our borders.” FMD would have catastrophic consequences on the multi-billion dollar industry of agriculture if there was an outbreak.
The primary concern among the five panelists was inadequate access to enough vaccinations if there ever were to be an outbreak. Currently, there is a shortage of funding for not only vaccines, but also all the supplies needed to combat a large outbreak. Costs for providing all of the needed supplies would reach upwards of $150 million a year and would take five years to build a “robust stockpile” that includes all 23 strains, according to Dr. Roth of Iowa State University.
If there was an outbreak, domesticated livestock wouldn’t be the only herds at risk for contamination. This poses the issue of how to gain control over deer and feral swine, which move freely among herds and are easily at risk for contamination as well. Once the disease spreads, it will be nearly impossible for farmers and ranchers to contain all of the wild animals in order to vaccinate them to stop the spread of the disease.
The panelists also expressed concern with regards to agro-terrorism or the intentional attempt to disrupt or destroy the agriculture industry or food supply. When asked about how concerned the panelists were about FMD being used as an act of agro-terrorism against our economy, two panelists said they were at a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. Dr. Sjeklocha, operations manager of animal health & welfare at Cattle Empire, agreed that FMD has a strong likelihood of being used as an act of agro-terrorism, he said that he was only at a 10 on the same scale, which didn’t provide much relief.
Now it is up to Congress, the Administration, and all of U.S. livestock producers to configure a plan and come up with the funds necessary to ensure that this disease doesn’t make its way to U.S. soil, and if it does, that it doesn’t exponentially increase and ultimately devastating the U.S. economy.