R-CALF USA today sent formal correspondence to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to urge her to reverse the Department’s decision to relocate veterinary research on highly contagious diseases from Plum Island, N.Y., to the heart of cattle country – Manhattan, Kan.

The International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID) has reported that a new outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus was confirmed in South Korea in a state-run livestock and veterinary science institute in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea. Prior to this latest outbreak, ISID reported that South Korea had experienced 16 outbreaks since Jan. 1, 2010.

Of particular interest is that ISID also reported that: “Quarantine control and decontamination efforts carried out at the site (the state-run livestock and veterinary science institute) are much more stringent than normal farms, raising concerns that the nationwide effort to contain the disease may not be effective.” So far, according to ISID, more than 49,000 Korean animals were ordered to be culled as a result of that country’s ongoing outbreaks.

“Your agency should be alarmed by this recent outbreak, particularly because you are proposing to relocate the United States’ veterinary research facility for pernicious FMD viruses to Manhattan, Kansas, which is located in the very heart of the High Plains region that is commonly referred to as the U.S. ‘Beef Belt,’” wrote R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group’s animal health committee.

Also alarming is that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists recently concluded a comprehensive risk analysis regarding the potential for FMD outbreaks in South Korea. USDA’s presumed science-based conclusion, published on Dec. 28, 2009, that South Korea was free of FMD and that: 1) South Korea has the veterinary infrastructure in place to detect and effectively eradicate FMD; 2) South Korea “has the veterinary and regulatory infrastructure to detect and control any incursion of FMD into the country;” 3) “Biosecurity measures and controls at Korean beef production facilities are effective in preventing FMD outbreaks;” 4) South Korea “has emergency response plans in place for controlling FMD should an outbreak of the disease occur;” 5) “the historical absence of disease in the region and the ability to quickly detect the disease if it is introduced in the absence of vaccination further support evidence of the absence of disease in the Republic of Korea;” and, 6) South Korea has demonstrated it can “take appropriate action in case of an FMD outbreak. The disease control authority, programs, and animal health management appear adequate. Emergency response capacity appears well planned, documented, and readily implemented.”

“USDA’s conclusion that the ‘Republic of Korea has the legal framework, animal health infrastructure, disease detection capabilities, reporting systems, and emergency response systems that are necessary for maintaining the Republic of Korea as free of FMD’ is now absolutely, unequivocally false,” Thornsberry said. “When one considers this most recent outbreak is reported in a veterinary science institute where mitigations are more stringent than normal, it is clear that the risk of an FMD outbreak is far more evasive and far more likely to occur than USDA can accurately measure or predict.”

“Based on South Korea’s ongoing FMD experience, combined with the clear evidence USDA lacks the ability to predict not only the actual risk of FMD, but also, the capacity to measure the effectiveness of measures designed to control FMD outbreaks, we are concerned any action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow live FMD viruses on the U.S. mainland will result in the potential for FMD release and subsequent infection in U.S. livestock,” the letter concludes. “Obviously, USDA neither has sufficient knowledge regarding the vulnerability of U.S. livestock to this dangerous disease, nor does the agency precisely know all the ways in which this disease may be transmitted. We implore you to reverse your decision to relocate FMD live-virus research to America’s Heartland – a decision certain to increase the risk of FMD exposure to U.S. livestock.”