USDA would face significant challenges if foot-and-mouth disease was detected in the United States, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
FMD is a highly contagious viral disease that causes lesions on the hooves and mouths of cloven-hoofed ruminants including cattle, swine, sheep and goats. The United States has not had an FMD outbreak since 1929, but FMD is present in much of the world and would have serious economic impacts if found in the United States.
The report states identified challenges in 11 areas, based on its review of USDA documents, responses to GAO’s questionnaire and interviews with agency officials and others with expertise on FMD. The challenges include:
- A limited supply of FMD vaccine, sufficient to protect about 14% of the cattle in Texas or about 4% of the hogs in Iowa. Texas has the nation’s largest cattle herd and Iowa has the nation’s largest hog herd. The 2018 Farm Bill includes a provision to increase the FMD vaccine supply.
- Surveillance as there is no active surveillance for FMD and signs can be difficult to notice in some species. USDA relies on passive surveillance, waiting for producers or veterinarians to notice and report.
- Diagnosis. USDA would rely on individual animal testing. During an outbreak, massive quantities of diagnostic testing may need to be conducted, straining the capacity of federal and state laboratories that are qualified to investigate suspected cases of FMD, potentially causing delays in detecting infected premises.
- Information management as the data systems at the state and federal levels and between diagnostic laboratories and USDA may be incompatible.
- Animal traceability as there is insufficient use of identification numbers for livestock premises and individual animals to enable tracing of infected, exposed and susceptible animals.
- A lack of sufficient biosecurity on some premises, difficulty in implementing biosecurity measures for certain species and lack of written plan specifying what measures are in place.
- Depopulation, including limited capability for killing large numbers of animals in a timely manner.
- Carcass disposal, including the feasibility of disposing of a large number of animal carcasses, public concern about disposal options and the environmental impacts of disposal.
- Lack of incident responders and lack of resources devoted to preparedness planning.
- Communication and coordination because of unclear roles and responsibilities.
- Compensating livestock owners for animals or equipment that the government determines must be destroyed to limit the spread of FMD.