I get to meet a lot of interesting people in this job, mostly veterinarians, nutritionists and producers. In early December, I met this friendly U.S. Border Patrol agent who boarded our bus southeast of Nogales, Ariz., to make sure we were legal. I’m sure Officer Resendez  had to wonder a little bit, however, about the convoy that included two busloads of people followed by a couple of vet trucks and a truck pulling a trailer with two necropsied steers in it, as dusk was falling over the rugged, southern Arizona mountains.

As you can see by the cover story, this group of people was in Arizona for the National Livestock Emergency Response Conference put on by the Arizona Livestock Incidence Response Team (ALIRT).
I wrote about the ALIRT program in the October 2007 Bovine Veterinarian, but what I want to talk about in this article is the unique, hands-on training program they put on over the course of three days that was open to veterinarians, producers, livestock officers, law enforcement and others. This second annual conference was probably the most comprehensive, practical and well-planned meeting I’ve been to.

Aside from my three-second meeting with the Border Patrol officer, I spent a significant amount of time with people such as livestock officers — law enforcement entities whom veterinarians should get to know in their own states. Arizona’s coordination with veterinarians, the university, the cattlemen’s associations and law enforcement in the event of a livestock emergency was impressive, to say the least.

This program that combined lectures, necropsy and sample-taking demos, and a day on a border ranch doing simulated livestock emergency exercises really brought home the need for more training like this in the United States.

But add into that the remoteness of the ranch; the flyover by the U.S. Border Patrol helicopter; the rocky Patagonia Mountains; and the rancher’s experiences with illegal aliens, drug runners and caches of drugs found on his ranch and I did not have a great feeling about the security and biosecurity of this country and realized how large the potential for introduction of foreign animal disease or bioterrorism could be.

And our border states are not the only ports of entry. Veterinarians were present from Washington State and Florida, which also see a large number of foreign visitors and even illegal aliens on their shores. 

Do food animal veterinarians need to become hyper-vigilant, gun-toting guardians of the industry? Probably not. Should you be able to recognize foreign animal disease or signs of foul play and know whom to contact at the law enforcement, state veterinary/regulatory or federal level? You bet.

Emergency livestock training programs are starting to spring up here and there. I would encourage you to take advantage of one, wherever it is. And if how Arizona’s annual ALIRT hands-on training program is structured interests you, I can tell you that Tucson is a great place to be in December.  …


Next issue: March 2008