Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals. The FMD virus causes illness in affected animals, most commonly showing blisters on the tongue, lips, in and around the mouth, on mammary glands and around the hooves, paired with a fever.
“Animals likely won’t die from FMD, but will become sick, weak and unable to produce meat and milk the way they did prior,” said Kathy Simmons, chief veterinarian for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
An outbreak of FMD would result in a major loss of trade to other countries that buy U.S. meat products.
“We haven’t had an outbreak of FMD in the U.S. since 1929 and we have gained benefits in trade because we don’t have the disease,” said Patrick Webb, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board.
But the economic impact of such a disease would be dramatic, based on research done by Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes. His work shows a loss of over $200 billion in the beef, pork, corn, soybean and poultry industries over a 10-year period if FMD were detected in the U.S. The estimate includes export values, value of livestock and feed inputs and lost jobs.
“The closed trade would mean much more product would be on the domestic market, thus lowering the price of meat and for poultry to compete and sell, prices and revenue would decrease also,” said Webb. “It is not something we want to experience, but it’s definitely something we need to be prepared for.”
While foreign exports would be closed and animal movement in affected areas would stop, Simmons said communication to U.S. consumers that meat and milk are safe, and the disease is not a public health issue, would be critical.
Symptoms of FMD can be confused with other vesicular diseases, including vesicular stomatitis, bluetongue, bovine viral diarrhea, foot rot in cattle and swine vesicular disease. Simmons said testing becomes very important when FMD is suspected.
“Livestock producers would first call their accredited veterinarian, who is trained to look for domestic and foreign animal diseases. If they suspect a foreign animal disease they have to notify the state veterinarian,” Simmons said. “Pending the results, the suspect farm would be quarantined.”
FMD is a complex virus, with seven serotypes and 60 subtypes. Various types of the virus have been identified in Africa, South America, Asia and some parts of Europe. The virus can incubate and be shed by a susceptible animal for 2 to 14 days, thus spreading the disease before symptoms even show up.
“With so many diseases that look like FMD, it’s important to get samples to the lab quickly in order to perform tests to determine what disease the animal has,” Webb said.
To help catch diseases early, training of veterinarians, livestock producers and their employees and packing plant employees is important. When a positive case is found, it is important to be able to trace where the animal originated, which is why acquiring a premises identification number through a producer’s state animal health official can help with traceability and communication.
“The goal would be to find where the disease is present and where it isn’t present to better understand the dynamics of the disease outbreak,” Webb added.
Once the location of the virus is found, and a confirmation is made, a decision must be made as to how to handle the disease.
Simmons said previous FMD outbreak response would be to depopulate the affected cattle. However, a revised strategy has been developed after 2001 examples in the United Kingdom and Uruguay. The 2001 outbreak in the U.K., which resulted in the depopulation of more than 6 million animals had an estimated cost of $34.5 billion.
“The outbreak in Uruguay the same year affected approximately the same number of cattle and was controlled through vaccination in a shorter time frame at the cost of only $550 million,” Simmons said.
The U.S. has an FMD vaccine bank held at Plum Island, New York, as the vaccine cannot be manufactured using live virus on the mainland. The current bank is held as a vaccine antigen, concentrate according to Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council.
The urgency to have a vaccine ready to go has led to concerned producer organizations asking for funding in the upcoming farm bill.
“We know it’s not inexpensive, but we also know the importance of having a vaccine available in the case of an outbreak in the U.S.,” Wagstrom said.
A bank of several million doses is required to treat the number of animals across the country, she said. “We are asking for $150 million per year for the life of the farm bill, but look at it as protecting an animal industry that produces hundreds of billions of dollars in income every year.”
Wagstrom and Simmons agreed that keeping the concentrate with a manufacturer is sensible, as the vaccine would have less chances of being unused. “That way, if another country would need the FMD vaccine as it gets closer to expiration, it could be used by that country and the U.S. supply would be replaced with concentrate with a later expiration,” said Wagstrom.
The livestock group is also asking for $30 million to be used toward supporting the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, which would play a critical role in testing during a FMD outbreak, plus $70 million per year for block grants to be used at the state level for outbreak preparedness in the proposal. That’s a total of $1.25 billion total from the farm bill.
“We would also need mandatory farm bill money in the future to help cover the expense of the vaccine bank,” Wagstrom added.
The vaccine concentrate is held for five years; the potency of the vaccine shelf life is about 12 months. Since the vaccine would be administered through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, livestock producers would not be involved in the cost of the vaccine.
The U.S. would need roughly 40 million doses of the FMD vaccine in the first two months after an outbreak, plus an ongoing supply of vaccine once the disease is under control.
Prevention of the spread of the disease and awareness of surroundings has helped keep FMD out of the U.S. for many years. Simmons said educating travelers is a key to prevention. For example, if a traveler visits a farm in southeast Asia where the virus is present, then returns to the U.S. but didn’t write on the customs form that they were on a farm, the FMD virus could be on their clothing or footwear. “Most of us in agriculture know this is possible,” Simmons said. “Honesty is the best way to go when traveling.”
Webb emphasized the importance of producers being educated on how to respond to an FMD outbreak.
Each part of the livestock industry has a crisis response plan; all must work together in time of crisis. For 12 years, the National Pork Board has traveled the country with a tabletop foot-and- mouth disease drill, to simulate what could happen in rural communities during an FMD outbreak. The drill involved local community members, farmers, law enforcement, firemen, veterinarians and government officials, who can see what it takes to be prepared to respond to such a crisis.
“We want livestock producers to realize what it will take to get back to business after a foreign animal disease outbreak,” said Webb. Remember, one cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy closed beef exports to many international markets for 10 years. “It is estimated to take about 10 years to get fully back into the international trade markets that are lost in an outbreak,” he said.
Webb said the Differentiation Infected from Vaccinated Animals or DIVA test would help get the country back into trade. Currently, the Secure Pork Supply and Secure Beef Supply can help with making the process much quicker than it may have been in the past. Simmons said the Secure Egg and Broiler Supply plans helped the poultry industry get back going after the High Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak in the U.S. in 2015.
The biggest challenge for producers during an outbreak, besides caring for sick animals is how to stay in business when the value of their animals could decrease up to 50 percent. Government indemnity would only be available for herds that are approved for depopulation, but there is no indemnity for the loss of opportunity to market livestock.
“We want to be able to keep livestock producers in business if there is a disease crisis so the industries will be able to recover and be strong again,” Webb said.