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Beefs and Beliefs

USDA-APHIS Proposal Risks Importing Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Less than three weeks left to post your negative comments against this proposed colossal blunder with FMD risk.


We have less than a month to overload USDA with negative comments about their proposal to import beef from Brazil, a country with ongoing foot-and mouth disease problems.

If this proposal from USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service doesn't sound like such a bad idea to you, follow along and I will elaborate.

First, some facts about the APHIS proposal. The agency wants to allow fresh beef imports from a 14-state region of Brazil which has no recent history of outbreak of FMD, meaning not in the last 12 months. However, the proposed region of export in Brazil still vaccinates for FMD and there have been outbreaks elsewhere in Brazil as recently as 2005-2006 and in 2001-2002 before that.

Nonetheless, APHIS says its risk assessment says the proposed export region of Brazil can safely send fresh beef to the US.

APHIS also notes that 76-99% of cattle in the region are vaccinated, but that no other species are regularly vaccinated, although hogs, sheep and goats, plus many cloven-hoofed species of wildlife are susceptible.

Besides the adjoining states of Brazil which are not FMD free, the disease is also present in the neighboring countries of Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.

APHIS adds that it considers animal identification, control of animal movement in the region and slaughter and inspection controls to be adequate for preventing the spread of FMD to the United States.

An examination of recent outbreaks makes APHIS's risk assessment seem unreliable, at best, or dishonest at worst.

Let's examine some facts about FMD. Great Britain has suffered two serious FMD outbreaks in the last 20 years, in 2001 and 2007, and certainly has displayed the knowledge and logistical capabilities to deal with it. However, it's estimated the 2001 outbreak cost the nation about $16 billion. Some 80,000-93,000 animals per week were being exterminated at the height of the outbreak.

From the UK government here is an excerpt on the dangerously easy and sometimes mysterious transmission of the FMD virus.

"Airborne spread of the disease can take place and under favourable weather conditions the disease may be spread considerable distances by this route. For example, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the outbreak on the Isle of Wight in 1981 resulted from the airborne spread of the virus from Brittany in northern France.

"Animals pick up the virus either by direct contact with an infected animal or by contact with foodstuffs or other things which have been contaminated by such an animal, or by eating or coming into contact with some part of an infected carcase. In the past, outbreaks of the disease have been linked with the importation of infected meat and meat products.

"The disease is spread mechanically by the movement of animals, people, vehicles and other things which have been contaminated by the virus. Trucks, lorries, market places and loading ramps – in or over which infected animals have travelled – are dangerous until disinfected. "Roads may also become contaminated and virus may be picked up and carried on the wheels of passing vehicles.

"The boots, clothing and hands of a stockman who has attended diseased animals can spread the disease and dogs, cats, poultry, wild game and vermin may also carry infection."

I don't know what images that conjures up for you, but after reading that description and other material on FMD's virulence I can imagine many ways the virus could sneak into this country once we open the door to it.

Further, it could happen anyway. Some of you may have seen my blog about 18 months ago on an interview with and speech by Patrick Webb, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board. Webb said then that FMD almost certainly will come to the US sometime in the future.

Webb said then that the immense amount of travel by humans alone to areas of the world with FMD would be enough to bring the disease here by some fashion. He added that the movement of 600,000 pigs per day all across the nation's highways, not to mention the movement of beef and dairy cattle up and down highways, would provide for rapid spread of FMD across the nation once an infection begins.

This is logically correct because one of the means of transmission is by airborne particles. Further, hogs shed the disease in higher volumes than cattle and the incubation period varies from two to  fourteen days.

FMD is considered a national security risk because an outbreak would be so widespread and severe. It has been estimated it would cost $12.8 billion, require 10 years for the animal industries to fully recover from it, and cost potentially 150,000 jobs.

Economist Bill Helming says an FMD outbreak could only further damage beef demand by further dramatically cutting beef supplies and driving prices for beef and pork ever higher for 12 to 24 years. In addition, Helming says he believes there would be negative consumer response and decline in meat consumption from and FMD outbreak despite any efforts by government and the animal industries to tell consumers their meat is still safe to eat.

Making a comment against the APHIS proposal is easy. Just go to APHIS's comments page and type in your comments before April 22. You'll see many of the comments are quite simple.

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