fb - voice of agriculture
May 2001

U.S. Plans to Beat Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Like most livestock producers in the U.S., I am watching the agricultural and political situation in Europe very closely. Even though no cases have occurred here, producer groups are canceling major meetings and individuals are halting farm visits by school children to avoid the possibility of people introducing the disease to one's operation. To me, events in Europe that affect their food supply should serve to emphasize the great gulf in food safety and animal health care criteria practiced on the two continents.

Farm Bureau has been working very closely with several federal agencies to assure that all is being done to maintain and protect the wholesomeness of the commodities we produce. This has involved everything from devising inspection standards to prevent the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease to developing rapid means of detection and establishing eradication procedures. So far, we have avoided the disease.

It is very important that our stock not be exposed to such an easily spread disease. We have not had an outbreak in this country for more than 70 years. The disease, which is not transmitted to people, does cause affected animals great discomfort and will make them less productive. Foot-and-mouth disease is tolerated in many countries, although all developed countries immediately eradicate herds as soon as it is discovered. Modern production methods help prevent the disease while subsistence production efforts are not as effective.

Government is Vigilant in Safeguarding our Industry

The economic threat to U.S. agriculture is great. We could expect to face export prohibitions, just as European countries do now. In fact, our government would impose an export ban that would likely last months after the last affected animal was removed. Other nations would step in and sell pork and beef in markets we have worked so hard to develop. Inability to export to foreign purchasers would cost U.S. livestock producers billions of dollars. Feed grain producers would see domestic sales plummet. Federal eradication programs and emergency assistance for farmers would be even more expensive. Dietary shifts to poultry, fish and/or grains, fruits and vegetables are also a possibility. This disease threatens the well-being of all farmers and ranchers.

Farm Bureau appreciates and applauds the federal government's actions and its contingency planning efforts, to date. USDA has intensified an already impressive inspection system at our ports, airports and border stations, adding more people and dogs to detect contraband meat products. Special attention is also being devoted to alerting travelers to the gravity of foot-and-mouth disease, to encourage their cooperation in preventing its spread. USDA set up an emergency task force of experts to immediately investigate any animals suspected of having been exposed to or showing symptoms of the disease.

Opportunists Promote Divisiveness

Farm Bureau is also working with another federal agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation to address threats from eco-terrorists. Incredibly, there are people who would threaten our food supply and the economic underpinning of our industry to attain their personal goals.

An animal rights group leader, for example, told a reporter that she hopes foot-and-mouth disease would be introduced in America, claiming resultant weakened livestock production in this country would be good for animals, good for human health and good for the environment. Such comments encourage those who in the past have vandalized, burned and destroyed university buildings and private animal production facilities.

Because of concerns created by several serious food safety problems in Europe coming at the same time, leaders of fringe organizations there promote their pet projects, be it encouraging vegetarianism or organic farming or banning what they call "factory farms." Farmers and ranchers can produce commodities under the most stringent requirements but, as long as people want affordable, abundant, and wholesome food, the few of us working the land will have to farm intensively. And our animals will enjoy better health because we maintain tight veterinary supervision and we benefit from more effective food production and protection tools.