By Kindra Gordon

No one wants to think of a tragedy occurring. But history has shown that the unthinkable – from terrorism to natural disasters – can happen. One future scenario that the U.S. livestock industry is bracing for is a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak within the country.

Fortunately, the U.S. has not had an incidence of the disease since 1929, but Jim Roth, DVM, and distinguished professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University cautions that the FMD risk is very real.

Roth explains that 96 countries around the globe deal with FMD regularly. Thus, he says, “It’s out there.” For instance an FMD outbreak was discovered and confirmed in China in mid-September, resulting in the culling of 47 cattle following the outbreak. That was the the eighth case of the O-type strain of FMD found in livestock in China this year. In August, China culled 173 pigs due to FMD.

And, given the highly mobile society we live in today, Roth, who is also director for the Center for Food Security and Public Health at ISU, explains, “We are seeing more viruses coming into this country [America].” He cites avian influenza and porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus as recent examples. 

Roth underscores that FMD does not pose a public health or food safety concern, but because the disease is highly contagious among cloven-hooved animals the economic impact could be staggering. Once it is identified in a country, livestock movement – and exports – are typically stopped. If this occurred in the U.S, a 2011 study by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute projected cumulative losses to American agriculture over 10 years equal to $199.8 billion. 

Much of the economic impact is because domestic livestock prices would drop due to loss of exports and consumer confidence would likely falter. 

6 Scenarios

Presently, a Foreign Animal Disease Response and Preparedness Plan developed in 2013 by USDA, APHIS and the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, anticipates six different “types” of FMD outbreaks. These include:

Type 1: a focal FMD outbreak, involving one state or small region

Type 2: a moderate regional FMD outbreak

Type 3: a large regional FMD outbreak

Type 4: a widespread or national FMD outbreak

Type 5: a catastrophic U.S. FMD outbreak 

Type 6: a catastrophic North American FMD outbreak

Roth explains that as the type of FMD outbreak escalates from Type 1 to Type 6, the strategies to combat the disease – and the length of time to regain markets – will be impacted. 

As an example, a Type 1 outbreak would likely be addressed with a strategy of “stamping out” (euthanizing) affected animals and a timeline of three months after the last case before the region is declared FMD-free. However, a Type 3 or larger outbreak may not be feasible for a “stamping out” strategy, and thus would involve vaccination of animals and allowing them to recover or be slaughtered. But it could take up to two years from the last case before FMD-free status may be achieved in these scenarios. 

(Editor’s Note: Watch next week’s issue for Part 2 of this article and the specific action steps that are planned should FMD be detected.)