Nebraska Beef Council photo --
USDA has announced it will move a modified, non-infectious version of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus that is devastating to beef cattle, from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to the U.S. mainland for the purposes of continued vaccine development and study.
Nebraska Beef Council photo -- USDA has announced it will move a modified, non-infectious version of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus that is devastating to beef cattle, from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to the U.S. mainland for the purposes of continued vaccine development and study.
By CBW Staff

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has authorized the movement of a modified, non-infectious version of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to the U.S. mainland for the purposes of continued vaccine development and study. While modified FMD virus is unable to cause disease and presents no risk of transmitting the disease, it is still live FMD virus, and Federal law requires the Secretary’s approval for this movement.
FMD is a highly contagious viral foreign animal disease that affects domestic livestock – including cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and domestic cervids – with reduced milk and meat productivity, illness, and death.
In order to protect the nation’s livestock, the live FMD virus was previously not allowed anywhere in the country except for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, where it was held and worked with under very strict biocontainment procedures. However, with advances in technology, it is now possible to genetically modify the virus so that it is non-infectious.
“Secretary Perdue’s decision to authorize the movement of a modified, non-infectious version of the FMD virus is welcomed by both state and federal animal health officials,” says Nebraska State Veterinarian Dennis Hughes. “Today’s technological advances have allowed the virus to be genetically modified so that it is non-infectious, but can still simulate immunity to prevent infection to vaccinated animals.  The ability to move this modified version of the virus into the mainland will allow additional opportunities for study and vaccine development.”
While supportive of the decision, South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven says caution is certainly warranted.
“Foot and Mouth Disease virus does concern me, and as the State Veterinarian, I hope that we all will take appropriate measures to continue to prevent the introduction of FMD in our livestock populations.  However, it is also important to plan and prepare for the worst – just in case.  Increasingly, vaccination against FMD is recognized as an important tool for halting an outbreak, and yet the U.S. does not currently have an adequate supply of vaccine to effectively use in even a small regional outbreak.  More work is needed in FMD vaccine research, and I support methods of safely doing so, including the movement of noninfectious FMD virus to approved facilities in the U.S., under specific conditions,” Oedekoven says.
USDA does say the movement of the modified virus will offer the opportunity to quickly source and acquire FMD vaccine in the event of an outbreak of the devastating disease.
In recent years Congress has supported the building of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas. “Now under construction, the new facility is being built with modern engineering and bio-containment methods that were not in existence when the now antiquated and failing Plum Island facility was built.  Better facilities will lead to more productive vaccine development research that could be used to assist in protecting the U.S. livestock population during an FMD outbreak,” Oedekoven says.
With this announcement, vaccine companies may now apply for USDA permits to continue their work with this specific modified, non-infectious FMD virus in the United States. All permits granted would include appropriate biocontainment and use restrictions, and may be revoked if warranted.

Montana to exercise animal disease response
Timely, but already planned before the news from USDA, the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) is collaborating with USDA and other state and local agencies to conduct an animal disease response exercise, May 8-10, 2018.
The three-day functional exercise will enable MDOL to practice the state’s animal disease response plan. Numerous federal, state and local government agencies will participate in the exercise, which will be based around an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the United States.
“Foot-and-mouth disease would have devastating consequences for Montana’s livestock industry and how we handle the initial response would be crucial,” said State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski. “Testing our response plan in an exercise format will be very beneficial and we look forward to participating in the exercise.”
 Foot-and-mouth disease was last identified in the United States in 1929. FMD is a highly contagious disease of cattle, sheep, swine, goats, deer and other cloven-hooved animals. It is not a human food safety concern nor a public health threat; however, it is a major concern for animal health officials because it could have potentially devastating economic consequences due to disrupted trade and lost investor confidence. Montana is home to over 2.5 million head of cattle which bring around $1 billion each year in cash receipts.
 “This exercise will be a positive experience that will make Montana’s livestock industry more resilient and better prepare us for an outbreak,” said MDOL Executive Officer Mike Honeycutt. “The public should not be concerned if they hear anything about foot-and-mouth disease during the days of the exercise.”