Complacency and inadequate infrastructure present the greatest risks to the United States in terms of foot-and-mouth disease entering the country. That’s the consensus of various experts representing the U.S. livestock industry, government agencies, veterinarians and foreign FMD experts.

Insight, advice and scientific data on the disease were all presented at the Summit on FMD sponsored by Watt Publishing and the Vance Food Systems Group held earlier this week in Chicago.

“Early diagnosis, and how one responds immediately are key lessons from the FMD British outbreak,” said Simon Kenyon, with Purdue University’s department of veterinary sciences. “If you diagnose FMD at the packing plant, you’re too late.”

He points to the United States’ livestock industry’s propensity to move animals throughout the country as posing a particular challenge. He sites a hypothetical exercise involving an outbreak in a North Carolina swine herd – “it could affect 22 states in one week.”

Linda Logan, Texas state veterinarian, pointed to a mock FMD exercise held in the state that revealed in eight days FMD could have been spread to 17 other states as well as Canada and Mexico.

Several other states have held similar exercises, which have become a critical link in identifying holes in the system and establishing effective FMD prevention and control protocols. These exercises are needed on an on-going basis. Texas will conduct another mock FMD outbreak in late June. “Every state is working on an FMD-response plan,” says Logan.

Individuals up and down the livestock and dairy production chain have turned their attention to the disease and the effect it could have on the United States. “The experience in the United Kingdom has served as a wake-up call,” said Kenyon. Now and in the future, protecting the United States from FMD and other foreign animal diseases will require strong partnerships between government agencies, allied industry, universities, commodity groups, veterinarians and producers.

“We’re not just talking about FMD,” warned Keith Baker, with the British Veterinary Association. “There are a lot of potential diseases out there and your prevention plans need to be different depending on the disease.”

“You have to be ahead of the disease,” said Simon Barteling, a veterinary consultant who’s worked on FMD episodes in the Netherlands and South Africa. Among the issues that he noted as a concern for the United States is a lack of diagnostic laboratories for FMD and other foreign animal diseases. According to federal law the laboratory at Plum Island, New York, is the only one that can diagnose FMD. “That’s not enough. You don’t have the laboratories available that you will need in the face of an outbreak and it will take too long to install them,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is another area in need of review. “Livestock has not previously been included in FEMA’s jurisdiction,” said Chester Gipson, associate deputy administrator with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “That’s being changed.” He indicated that FEMA will be working with USDA on the matter.

Complacency toward FMD and foreign animal diseases is a major risk factor, noted Baker. This involves producers’ maintenance of strict biosecurity measures, keeping the public and government official’s awareness high, and implementing strict border controls. All of those things will be on-going challenges.

The U.S. animal health infrastructure has many needs– all of which depend on money. This week, President Bush asked Congress for $35 million in fiscal 2001 supplemental appropriations for USDA to enhance activities that will protect U.S. agriculture from foreign animal disease threats. The questions remain– Will it be approved? Will it be enough?

Since the 1970s, the number of veterinarians assigned to national and state animal health programs have been cut in half; USDA receives 2 percent of the total U.S. research budget and funding has fallen every year, notes Logan. “Are we ready for an FMD outbreak? We are better off than we were a year ago, but we need to make sure that Congress provides the funding for the animal health infrastructure,” she concluded.