The upheaval in the marketplace due to COVID-19 is showing how important it is to identify disease transmission and determine who is infected and who is not.
Slaughter plants closed as workers were diagnosed with COVID-19, interrupting the farm-to-market chain. Farmers were forced to hold back healthy animals ready to ship and either find other buyers or euthanize their pork or poultry.
Minnesota livestock and poultry farmers have had their share of dealing with animal diseases that impacted their businesses. Bovine tuberculosis in beef cattle in the mid-2000s and the 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza quickly come to mind.
With those outbreaks and others, a team of scientists and staffs from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and federal agencies all worked together to contain disease outbreaks.
Numerous lessons have been learned in how to prepare and how to respond to a pandemic before it arrives. CVM researchers have been at the forefront of that effort, using science and data to help develop a risk assessment process that they call the Secure Food System supply plan. The plan helps provide guidance on how uninfected animals and farms can continue to move food products through commercial processing during an outbreak without potentially spreading disease.
Specific plans, some in collaboration with other universities, have been written for poultry, beef, swine and milk.
Last month, USDA awarded a $1 million grant to the U-M CVM Secure Food System (SFS) team to continue its work on agricultural biosecurity. Grant funds also will be used to develop a risk assessment for pork producers for African swine fever.
The CVM team is led by Carol Cardona, Cesar Corzo, Marie Culhane and Tim Goldsmith.
The SFS strategy developed by CVM was successfully used for poultry-to-market movements in 2015, 2016 and 2017 during H5 avian influenza outbreaks, according to CVM, because producers and regulators followed proactive guidance in a specific poultry supply plan.
“A lot of science is behind that, hundreds of pages of risk assessments,” Cardona says. “New strategies were developed to show what would happen [with animal movement] and how to move product from unaffected farms.”
That involves testing a lot of animals to identify infected and non-infected one and assessing movement risks. SFS is tactical, pathway-driven and specific per disease outbreak, Cardona adds, and relies on a lot of outreach and engagement from producers and other stakeholders as risk assessments are developed.
“Our work supports continuity of business,” she says, pointing to efforts learned in the past. “We could move product without spreading disease and be able to market uninfected, uncontaminated product through channels. People didn’t make money during [the pandemic] but after markets recovered.”
Visit SFS online for more information.