Farm Progress

A slate of Illinois agencies gathered to talk through, plan and prepare for a potential outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease — complete with a tabletop rural community.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

April 4, 2017

4 Min Read
PLAN: Montgomery County farmer Phil Borgic served as the hog farmer with a hypothetical foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Say a lone pork producer in a quiet corner of Illinois sees a few blisters near his hogs’ hooves, and maybe some on their snouts. They’re off feed and temps are high. The veterinarian says foot-and-mouth disease is a real possibility.

What happens next?

That’s exactly what a roomful of experts spent the day working through last week, as the Illinois Pork Producers Association sponsored an FMD outbreak drill, complete with a tabletop display of farms and a rural community — all of which would be affected as agencies work together to contain a hypothetical outbreak of the incredibly contagious disease.   

Gathered around the table were hog farmers, veterinarians, state veterinarian association representatives, Illinois Department of Agriculture officials, emergency management teams, fire officials and more. With guidance from the National Pork Board, the fleet of agencies worked through a hypothetical outbreak, and talked through who would do what, when and how.

“Unfortunately, it’s probably not if but when we have an FMD outbreak — and we want to be prepared,” says Cindy Cunningham, National Pork Board. She also told the crowd at the start of the day that if the thought of an FMD outbreak in Illinois doesn’t keep you up at night already, it should by the end of the day.  

Should that outbreak occur, Cunningham says the livestock industry has several priorities: Protect animal health, promote consumer confidence in meat and milk safety, and prevent disruption of that supply.

Ray Hankes, division manager of food safety and animal protection at IDOA, says an outbreak of FMD in Illinois would be devastating because it spreads so quickly, beyond the species where it originates, but only to cloven-hoofed animals.

Illinois impact and response
“As we saw here in the tabletop exercise, this impacts all of animal agriculture — certainly hogs and cattle. In our scenario, we’ve got a cattle farm sitting right next to the hog farm that became infected. But the cattle farm is also in the control zone, so it would have to be depopulated, as well,” Hankes says.

“Long term, if the U.S. would be infected with FMD, most of our trading partners would shut off our ability to export to them,” he adds.

According to the Center for Ag and Rural Development Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, revenue loss estimates from an FMD outbreak for beef and pork come in at $12.9 billion annually. Cumulative losses over 10 years could be nearly $200 billion, with $57 billion in pork, $71 billion in beef, $44 billion in corn, $25 billion in soybeans and $1.8 billion in wheat. Poultry, though not able to contract FMD, would lose nearly $1 billion.

“One of the things that’s new now compared to a few years ago — not only are we controlling the disease and depopulating, we’re considering the business aspect and economic aspect,” Hankes says.

Hankes doesn’t believe the recent closure of IDOA’s Animal Disease Laboratory at Galesburg would affect the state’s ability to respond to a disease outbreak. “The veterinary science lab at the University of Illinois can do all the same tests that they do at Galesburg. It might increase travel time to get samples to the lab, but in terms of capability, it’s the same. Response time is the same,” he says.

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SCENE: Representatives from ag, disaster, emergency management, fire and other agencies all across Illinois gathered around a tabletop display of a modern rural American town to visualize the impact an FMD outbreak could have on a community, all the way from discovery to euthanasia to media coverage to burial.

In an outbreak, communication and coordination among agencies would be key. “I feel like we’re as equipped as we can be with the resources we’ve got,” Hankes says. Mark Ernst, Illinois state veterinarian, and his team meet quarterly with the FBI to work through potential scenarios, which is something most states don’t do. IDOA also works closely with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

Hankes’ parting advice for Illinois farmers? “It’s observation, it’s biosecurity and if you do see something, get ahold of your veterinarian immediately,” he says. “The vet-client relationship is so important.”

Disease up close
Ernst says FMD is serious business, and a potential outbreak could affect all of Illinois agriculture.

“When you’re talking about foot-and-mouth disease, it would be devastating for that individual producer. For the industry as a whole, FMD is a highly contagious foreign animal disease. It’s something that won’t affect just one producer — it’ll trickle down through the whole industry and even outside of the industry,” he says. “It would just be phenomenal.”

Ernst says the typical incubation period for FMD runs from two to 14 days for any cloven-hoofed species. Sheep are the covert operators, in that they don’t show many clinical signs. Cattle and swine will show blisters after the incubation period and during the period of time when they shed virus.

Every animal in a herd would have to be euthanized to prevent spread of the disease and eliminate carriers.

And if you’ve heard of hand, foot and mouth disease in children, it’s not the same thing — at all — Ernst says.

“They’re two completely different viruses. The only reason you have a similarity in what they’re called is because of what’s infected. But there’s no relationships between the two,” Ernst explains.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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