Commentary: A Weak Link?

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the United States would create significant economic disruption, but its scope, duration and cost depends on our level of preparation, as much as on the nature and severity of the outbreak.

Fortunately, the industry has invested in response planning. The USDA, with input from industry, has developed a detailed “Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Plan,” which focuses on FMD along with other foreign animal diseases. As a component of that plan, Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security & Public Health (CFSPH), in cooperation with Kansas State University, University of Minnesota, and University of California-Davis, have developed the Secure Milk Supply (SMS) and Secure Beef Supply (SBS) Plans, which focus on maintaining business continuity while aggressively mitigating an FMD outbreak.

As outlined in our July issue’s lead article, current thinking has shifted away from mass culling or “stamping out” as the primary strategy for responding to most FMD outbreaks. Instead, today’s plans place more emphasis on large-scale vaccination as a means of containing the disease while allowing carefully regulated movement of cattle and continuation of commerce.

The volume of vaccine needed would depend on the type and scope of an outbreak. CFSPH director James Roth, DVM, PhD, DACVM, has defined six types of potential FMD outbreaks, ranging from Type 1, a focal outbreak, to Type 6, a catastrophic North American outbreak. At the lower end of the scale, the response likely would focus on culling all infected or exposed animals in the affected zone. But as the outbreak spreads to a larger regional or national scale, stamping out becomes unrealistic, and the response would shift toward alternative strategies including vaccination that could involve millions of animals.

The USDA currently operates a vaccine bank at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. While critical, the vaccine bank at current funding levels cannot maintain an adequate number of virus strains and lacks sufficient “surge capacity” to respond quickly to a large outbreak.

In a 2014, CFSPH white paper titled “FMD Vaccine Surge Capacity for Emergency Use in the United States,” Dr. Roth estimated the cost of funding adequate surge capacity at $150 million per year for five years — a relatively small price to protect a livestock industry that generates $100 billion per year in cash receipts.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) recently released an issue paper calling for Congress to provide the funds so that USDA can upgrade the vaccine bank and build a system for rapid deployment. Other industry groups, including the NCBA, have issued similar statements. With Congress beginning to debate the 2018 Farm Bill, now is the time for the government to acknowledge FMD as a national security issue. The price for upgrading our response capabilities is small relative to the risk of an inadequate vaccination program.