A monthly column written for Beef Central by US meat and livestock industry commentator Steve Kay, publisher of US Cattle Buyers’ Weekly
ONE hundred and fifty one years is a very long time. That’s when Australia had its last reported foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD) case. But time passed does not diminish the risk that the disease poses to the Australian livestock industry and the country’s overall economy.
That FMD is present in Indonesia means that Australian authorities need to be even more vigilant through biosecurity measure in preventing the disease from entering the country.
Livestock producers across North America tremble when FMD is mentioned. They know there has not been a case of the disease in the US since 1929 and in Canada since 1952. But they know the disease is endemic in other countries and could enter the continent.
They are also well aware of the colossal financial consequences of that occurring. FMD is the one topic that keeps livestock industry leaders awake at night. This is why many industry groups over the years have urged preventive action on various fronts and warned of the economic impact of an FMD case.
New measures to prevent FMD have recently been enacted in both Canada and the US.
In Canada, funding for an FMD vaccine bank and an increase to the interest- free limit of loans under the Advance Payments Program were two of the highlights of the latest federal budget. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will receive US$57.5 million over five years to set up a FMD vaccine bank and develop response plans if the disease makes its way to Canada. The federal government will ask the provinces and territories to share the cost.
FMD vaccine bank
In the US, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in 2017 joined with more than 100 other agricultural groups and industry leaders in calling for Congress to establish and fully fund a robust FMD vaccine bank as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.
An outbreak of FMD will have a devastating effect on all of agriculture, not just livestock producers, and will have long-lasting ramifications for the viability of US agriculture, the maintenance of food security in the nation and overall national security, said a letter sent to members of Congress.
An outbreak of FMD would immediately close all export markets, said the letter. The cumulative impact of an outbreak on the US beef and pork sectors over a ten-year period would be more than US $128billion. The annual jobs impact of such a reduction in industry revenue is more than 58,000 in direct employment and nearly 154,000 in total employment, it said.
These number are now six years old and the dollar losses might now be double the 2017 estimates. USDA in a 2020 report said an FMD outbreak in the US could cost from US $2 billion to greater than US $200 billion.
The 2018 Farm Bill established a three-pronged program to support animal disease prevention and management.
One of the components was the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank (National Bank). Having a US-only vaccine bank is a concept that USDA officials had long discussed with stakeholders and industry, and it makes a much larger number of vaccine doses available to the U.S than was possible through the North American Foot and Mouth Disease (NAFMDVB), said the 2020 USDA report.
In July 2020, APHIS announced a US$27.1 million initial purchase of FMD vaccine for the National Bank. This was the first step toward the goal of acquiring 10-25 million doses of each of the 10-12 highest risk strains of FMD for the bank. Just last month, APHIS announced it was awarding NCBA US$445,396 in funding to advance the Secure Beef Supply Plan (SBS) in the event of an FMD outbreak in the US.
The SBS plan, combined with USDA’s national vaccine bank, provides a strong safety net for cattle producers and multiple tools to mitigate risk from a potential outbreak, said Allison Rivera, NCBA executive director of government affairs.
The funding was made available through the 2018 Farm Bill, showing why continued support and further funding for animal disease preparation measures like the Secure Beef Supply Plan and the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasure Bank are so important as Congress works on the 2023 Farm Bill, she said.
Paraguay imports question
Ironically, NCBA is now battling APHIS over its proposed rule to allow fresh beef from Paraguay to enter the US. NCBA remains opposed to that occurring because of the threat of FMD and has called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to continue blocking Paraguay exports to the US, it said last month. USDA’s proposed rule is based on nine-year-old data and site visits that occurred in 2008 and 2014, said NCBA.
Paraguay has a history of outbreaks of FMD and the US cannot jeopardise the safety of its consumers and the health of its cattle herd with outdated information, said NCBA’s Kent Bacus.
USDA should not proceed with this application until a thorough review can be conducted with current information that demonstrates Paraguay’s equivalence in animal health and food safety standards, he said.
APHIS published its proposed rule in the Federal Register, so it will be interesting to see the level of support or opposition to its proposal. USDA says Paraguay is expected to export between 3250 and 6500 tonnes of beef to the US in the first year, which is about 0.05pc of US average annual imports of fresh beef.
Whether the US is prepared to risk FMD entering the country for such a tiny amount of beef is surely one question to be addressed.
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