Foot and mouth disease almost certainly will come to the U.S. sometime, said Patrick Webb, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board.
Webb spoke earlier this week about Foot and Mouth Disease to farm journalists at the annual Ag Media Summit in Albuquerque, N.M.
"I contend it's not an 'if' but it's a 'when' issue," he said.
The last case of Foot and Mouth in the United States was in 1929, Webb said, but the amount of international travel between this nation and countries which have ongoing infections of Foot and Mouth means it's more than likely an outbreak will occur here. Those countries include Asia, the Middle East, Africa and some places in South America.
Webb explained all cloven-hoofed animals can contract the disease and he added it's not an "Armageddon" disease that wipes out every animal which contracts it. Webb said Foot and Mouth is a "high morbidity, low mortality" disease.
He said in pigs it is about 25% fatal. He added that pigs are great vectors for the disease and that cattle and sheep are very susceptible to it but not as good at spreading it.
He also said the fact 600,000 hogs are in transport on the nation's highways between farrowing, nursery and feeding facilities every day of the year further adds to the likelihood of the diease spreading far and wide before it is identified after its two- to 14-day incubation period.
This is besides the extensive movement of beef and dairy cattle across the nation.
Foot and Mouth is a virus which causes painful blisters between the toes, in the mouths and esophagus, in the sinuses, around the eyes, and on the teats of infected animals. He said they are so sick and so miserable they tend to just "lie there and die."
Teresa Roof, a National Pork Board communications specialist who serves on the cross-species team which is preparing to deal with an outbreak of FMD, said the animal industries are ready to give the public a unified, two-part message in the event of said outbreak:
-Your meat and milk are safe. Humans cannot contract the disease from meat or milk products.
-Foot and Mouth Disease does not represent a public health risk nor a food safety risk.
However, 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, take 10 years to fully recover from, and cost potentially 150,000 jobs.
Therefore the FMD Cross-Species Team from the beef, pork and lamb industries has been working 10 years with USDA to prepare for control and eradication of the disease, in addition to actions to allay public fears about food safety and health.
To learn more about these efforts and about the disease, go to www.footandmouthdisease.org.