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Be proactive staying safe against FMD

By Staff | May 4, 2018



The United States has not seen an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) since 1929.

And, if state and federal officials have anything to do about it, the country will never see another outbreak.

But as the saying goes, “Never say never.”

The movement of animals and their products between countries is plentiful, so the risk still exists, since FMD does exist in two-thirds of the countries around the world. It is found primarily in parts of South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Dr. Danelle Bickett-Weddle, associate director for the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, said livestock producers and those who also handle animals outside the farm can take steps to help prevent this kind of outbreak, which she said would have a possible $80 billion negative impact.

What is FMD?

FMD is highly a highly contagious virus of cloven-hoofed livestock, which includes cows, pigs, goats and sheep. Bickett-Weddle is quick to point out that this disease does not affect public health or food safety.

The virus is shed in saliva, breath, milk, semen, urine and manure, and can be spread directly between animals or spread indirectly on clothing, footwear, vehicles and equipment.

Signs of FMD include blisters on the feet, in the mouth and, in female animals, on teats. Other symptoms include drooling, lameness, fever, nasal discharge and going off feed. Animals can be infected two to four days before showing signs.

Bickett-Weddle said its signs could be mistaken for other diseases, such as vesicular stomatitis in cattle – which has not been found in Iowa – or Senecavirus in swine, which has been seen in the U.S.

“Senecavirus also causes blisters which are most often being (seen) at slaughter plants where pigs are coming in,” said Bickett-Weddle. “We can’t tell the difference between FMD and Senecavirus just by looking; we have to run diagnostic tests to make sure it isn’t FMD.”

She said diagnostics have come a long way in the last few years. If an animal shows clinical signs, a sample would be harvested and flown to a lab off the coast of New York for testing. She said each state has a plane ready to go at any time if FMD is a possibility. With poultry’s avian influenza epidemic in 2015 and the PED virus in swine in recent years, she said there is reason to be cautious and work to maintain a country free of FMD.

“We’re seeing diseases in the U.S. that we haven’t seen in decades,” she said. “When we think of how people … and products … move, how transportation is so convenient now between countries, the risk exists, and because FMD is a big concern worldwide, it’s something we want to take preparedness steps for, should it ever enter the U.S.”


Bickett-Weddle said the U.S. takes protective measures at sea ports, borders, airports, customs and border protection areas. Animal health officials working with FMD try to stay ahead of it so the disease stays away from North America.

The disease can enter the country via meat products and hides from countries that have FMD. Among the animal population, the FMD is mostly debilitating, but not necessarily fatal.

Worldwide, Bickett-Weddle said more doses of FMD vaccine are sold than for any other animal disease, but that the U.S. does not vaccinate for it. If the U.S. did vaccinate for it, it would change the country’s trade status with other countries, making it less appealing for other countries to purchase U.S. meat and animal products.

Currently, the U.S. status for free trade is “FMD-Free Without Vaccination.”

FMD vaccine, with its 23 different strains worldwide, is in short supply, she said.

Research on FMD is not allowed on the U.S. mainland because it’s too contagious. In the event of a U.S. outbreak, vaccine would have to come from France (if they have that particular strain), and there would be roughly 2.5 million doses to be distributed.

“That would not be enough for the state of Iowa because of the high number of animals,” said Bickett-Weddle. “Animal commodity groups … have been pushing congress to put money into the Farm Bill for a better FMD vaccine bank because we know this is upwards of an $80 billion disease outbreak because of our exports, and if we spent $150 million a year for five years, we could get our vaccine back up to where it needs to be.”

She added, since 2014, the USDA has funded the Secure Beef Supply Plan, a business continuity plan that would help a producer, whose herd is not infected, know how to move forward in the event of an animal movement restriction due to an outbreak.

Such a restriction would stop movement of all animals and their products between borders of negotiating countries, no matter if all the animals were infected or not.

Bickett-Weddle said FMD comes up in discussions here and there because it’s on the radar of animal health officials.

“If (FMD) were ever to happen, it’s going to be like nothing our producers have ever experienced before,” she said, adding that the Secure Beef Plan talks about ways to react to an outbreak. “Our state and federal veterinarians would put into place movement controls … and Iowa’s plan says if we don’t have (FMD) in our state, but it’s in North America, we’re probably going to stop animal imports and product imports for 30 days.”

Bickett-Weddle said that would have a lasting impact, considering how often animals are moving within and throughout the state. With only one beef packing plant in Iowa, it would create a hardship regarding what to do with fat cattle ready for market.

She said producers are responsible for keeping their herd from becoming infected, so they are encouraged to put bio-security regulations in place on their farms – such as a premises identification number – so producers can be notified if active measures need to be ramped up due to a possible outbreak in an area.

The response plan also includes a contingency component, advising producers how to get needed products to and from their farms without introducing the virus if there is a no-movement restriction in place. She suggested having a good communication plan in place among farm workers, and a financial plan in place in the event that a contract can’t be filled because of a stop-movement order.

“If the U.S. has one case of FMD our exports will stop, (including) exports of all susceptible animal species,” she said. “We export a lot of high-dollar meat products … that would no longer have a market. The packers would be sitting with full freezers … the challenge becomes the economic impact that an export stoppage would create.”

She added corn and soybean prices would feel the hit, and that fallout from the proposed Chinese tariffs would be “just a glimpse” of what would be seen in an outbreak of FMD.

U.S. officials carefully monitor world situations for FMD, know what’s happening in other countries, and put in place import restrictions, helping to keep FMD out of the U.S. mainland.

Bickett-Weddle said if blisters are seen on animals, it’s best to assume it’s FMD and get it checked out right away.

“If you see something, say something to your herd veterinarian,” she advised. “Besides flying samples to (New York), some are sent here (ISU), so we can get answers very quickly. It’s better that we can control it, but it depends on how fast we find it.”

She said a producer may not be infected, but may be affected by this virus.

“That’s why the USDA recognizes the importance of funding Secure Beef Supply, Secure Pork Supply, Secure Milk Supply, which are documents for producers to say if this disease were to ever hit and you’re not infected, but are affected by movement controls, how do we keep you in business so we’re not destroying the virus along with our industry?” Bickett-Weddle said.

Visit www.securebeef.org, www.securemilk.org or www.securepork.org to learn more.

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