“We have a virtual foot-and-mouth disease outbreak with the United Kingdom’s break,” said Chester Gipson, associate deputy administrator for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “But the United States is free of FMD, and that’s a very important point.”

Another important point Gipson told attendees of The Summit on FMD, held earlier this week, “we need to be able to respond effectively and timely.” Watt Publishing and the Vance Food Systems Group presented the summit.

Gipson outlined the three levels of response, directed by APHIS, to an FMD outbreak in the United States as:

  • National – This is activated when the disease affects more than one state or poses a national threat to the livestock industry. The point is to establish one plan, one voice and one direction to reach a solution.
  • Regional – This comes into play when the disease affects multiple states within a region. It goes into effect in tandem with a national response.
  • Local – This includes the first individual on the site to deal with the disease, which would expand to involve state, federal and industry personnel.

APHIS has partnered with certified private veterinarians to report any suspected foreign animal diseases, said Gipson. There also are 450 trained animal disease diagnosticians from the state, federal and military ranks, who actively search for FMD and other foreign animal diseases. Plum Island, New York, by law is the only U.S. laboratory that can diagnose FMD.

APHIS’ Emergency Operations Center in Riverdale, Md., would serve as a command post, coordinating communication and managing the control and eradication efforts along with state and local officials, said Gipson.

Gipson also outlined some of USDA’s considerations and strategies should FMD reach the United States:

  • “We’re very aware that within 12 hours, animals can be shipped most anywhere in the United States, and that presents a challenge.”
  • “Agriculture’s large production units and vertically integrated systems can work against us because of shear volume of animals – but they can work for us as well, because those systems have strict biosecurity programs in place.”
  • “Depopulation and disposal of animals – based on what we learned in the United Kingdom – would be one of our greatest problems. The Environmental Protection Agency has come to us (USDA) to work on a disposal program that would mitigate disease and the risk of environmental impact.”
  • “Compensation to animal owners, and how to determine fair-market value, is a key issue and there are discrepancies. But we do have experience in this area.”
  • “Establishing an effective surveillance plan will be extremely important to ensure a successful conclusion.”

Gipson pointed out that USDA has stockpiled FMD vaccine for emergency use if needed. Because of security reasons, he could not say how much or what virus strain the vaccine was effective against. He added that there is a companion test for the vaccine, and that USDA had an agreement with Canada and Mexico concerning the vaccine.

Of course, USDA is actively pulling together research and information on FMD and BSE as mandated by Congress, which includes prevention strategies for foreign animal diseases.