Get the word out on FAD

A diseased dairy cow.  Courtesy NowPublic.

A foreign animal disease zone



I knew little about Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) when I walked into a Wisconsin Department of Agriculture (DATCP) talk on the subject Nov. 3 at the Microbial Sciences Center on the UW-Madison campus.  Here is a description of foot-and-mouth disease, an example of FAD, from www.cattletoday:

Foot-and-Mouth Disease is a severe, highly communicable disease of cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer.  It is caused by one of the smallest disease producing viruses known.   Humans do not catch the virus.  The disease is characterized by blister-like lesions on the tongue, nose and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the toes which then burst, leaving painful ulcers.   The blisters cause a heavy flow of sticky, foamy saliva that hangs from the mouth.  Infected animals sway from one foot to the other due to the tenderness of the feet.  Although older cattle usually do not die from the infection, they suffer a severe illness which leaves them in a weakened state.  They have high fevers, stop eating, give less milk and become lame. 

The virus is extremely contagious and spreads rapidly unless it is contained. This usually requires quarantining infected farms, followed by slaughtering and burning all susceptible animals. Anyone having contact with animals in infected countries should not go near susceptible animals for at least five days.  Because the virus is spread so easily, countries with the disease are banned from exporting animals and their products, creating further economic hardship.  Foot-and-Mouth Disease was last seen in the United States in 1929. The U.S. Government places an extremely high priority on keeping the disease out of the country. 

The FAD Threat

The first speaker i heard reviewed the horror stories of millions of hogs killed in Europe between 1997 and 2001 from either foot and moth disease or classic swine fever, including a 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom that killed 10 million animals at a total cost of $13 billion.

The numbers are staggering but foreign animal disease hasn’t caused nearly as much carnage in the U.S. or the state of Wisconsin — yet.  The major concern is that foreign animal disease can enter the country and disrupt the Wisconsin farm economy without warning. Two main causes are live animals that can come from elsewhere and spread the disease, or people coming or returning from abroad and smuggling diseased meat products into this country.

Preparing a Plan

The USDA, DATCP and local governments continue to develop a response plan acceptable to all sectors of Wisconsin agriculture that will effectively deal with an incident or outbreak. The big challenge is to get the word out about foreign animal disease so that a plan can be put in place that will work quickly and efficiently. That’s because the onset of foreign animal disease requires precautions so that the incident or outbreak is addressed qicklu without disrupting the transportation, distribution, and production of agricultural products, particularly raw milk that drives Wisconsin’s dairy industry.  According to DATCP, Wisconsin produces 25.1 billion pounds of milk each year from 1.25 million cows from nearly 13,000 dairy farms.  An outbreak severely disrupts the process.  A response plan reduces the disruption significantly.

A response would include setting up what amounts to safety zones around the affected farm and those closest to the occurrence and moving milk within specified zones to identified milk processing plants to get the product moving as quickly as possible. This is critical for raw milk, which can spoil after 48 hours. Though destroying affected herds has been done elsewhere, officials say it’s not a practical solution in Wisconsin. 

The Job Ahead

The main task for agricultural officials and milk marketers is to educate all players involved about foreign animal disease and develop an efficient response system.

The Wisconsin Agro-Security Resource Network (WARN) has a Web site intended to mobilize the entire food industry — dairy, beef, pork, egg, and poultry — to build relationships prior to an occurrence. Officials want to build on existing research and response plans from other areas to complete a plan that has total support.

“We are better prepared but we still have a long way to go,” USDA’s Ty Vannieuwenhoven told the audience.  That’s where citizen journalism plays a role. We can get the word out through GO Media and other outlets and participate in the public education needed to prepare for FAD, which is not a fad, but a potentially serious economic, logistic, and public health problem.

(Map courtesy Epoch Times Web images).

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