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Keep out sign on gate warning of foot-and-mouth disease Getty Images

U.S. vaccine bank best insurance policy to respond to FMD outbreak

While it’s been 90 years since the U.S. had a foot-and-mouth disease break, the disease is currently present in 96 countries around the world.

If the United States were to break with foot-and-mouth disease -- without a U.S.-based FMD vaccine bank -- there’s a likely chance that it could be 10 years before U.S. agriculture would be able to get rid of it. According to James Roth, a professor in the department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, that could mean $128 billion in losses for the U.S. pork and beef sectors, and another $69 billion for the corn and soybean industries.

“But if we have vaccine, there’s good potential if we can use it quickly that we could get the outbreak stopped, become FMD-free in a few to several months and regain our export markets and prevent tens of millions of animals at least from becoming sick and having the devastating economic loss of an entire herd being sick with many dying,” says Roth. “Vaccine is essential, and it needs to be readily available.”

Roth joined representatives from the National Pork Producers Council, the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Corn Growers Association in a press conference today, urging the USDA to move as quickly as possible to establish an FMD vaccine bank.

FMD is an extremely contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, any livestock or wildlife with two toes, including pigs. While it’s been 90 years since the U.S. had an FMD break, the disease is currently present in 96 countries around the world. Stop movements and stamping out worked historically to eliminate the disease from U.S. herds, however Roth says those actions alone are not realistic in today’s advanced production systems.

“In our modern animal agriculture, the herds are so large, often with tens of thousands of animals that it isn’t feasible to stamp them out to stop the virus from replicating and if you could stamp them out, carcass disposal would be a huge problem,” Roth says. “The other aspect that’s changed is that we have a very extensive movement of animals now, both short and long-distance movement. It’s estimated there are a million pigs in trucks on the road every day and 400,000 to 500,000 cattle, so there is a real possibility that by the time we detect, the virus would have already moved extensively and it’s very difficult to stop movement in our modern animal agriculture.”

The rapid accessibility of adequate supplies of FMD vaccine is not only essential for U.S. livestock production, but also to get export markets back as quickly as possible if there was an outbreak. Any country that has confirmed a case of FMD must notify the World Organization for Animal Health immediately, allowing other countries the right to stop imports.

“The pork industry exports over 25% of the pork we produce. Trade adds significant value for U.S. pork producers and is responsible for the growth of the pork industry in the United States,” says Liz Wagstrom, NPPC chief veterinarian. “Because of that, the development of a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank was our No. 1 priority as we went through last year’s farm bill. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort talking to legislators about the importance, about the need for a more adequate supply than we currently have.”

For the first time, the 2018 farm bill includes mandatory funding that directly supports animal disease prevention and preparedness, including the creation of a vaccine bank for livestock diseases. The bank, known as the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank will allow the United States to increase its ability to stockpile veterinary countermeasures.

Currently the U.S. supply of an FMD vaccine is held at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. However, if the U.S. were to have an FMD outbreak, that vaccine would need to be shipped to the current vaccine vendor in France, reconstituted, adjuvanted, bottled and shipped back, which would cause a significant delay, Wagstrom says.

Wagstrom says it has been encouraging to see the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service take the first step, posting a “sources sought” notice to gather information from interested vaccine manufacturers on their ability to supply FMD vaccine to the United States.

“They will evaluate the information they receive from that and then hopefully soon we’ll be publishing that request for proposals for vendors for the bank. We’ve been led to believe that as the process moves forward it could be a fairly abbreviated process and as early as the first part of next year, they could be ready to potentially put out contracts, so that’s an encouraging timeline,” Wagstrom says. “We definitely want to encourage them to make sure that timeline is as compressed as possible with that ability to identify the correct vendor that will give us a high-quality product in our bank, but yet do it in a timely manner.”

Roth says a U.S.-based vaccine bank is truly the livestock industry’s best insurance policy to respond to an FMD outbreak in the United States.

“As with most insurance policies, we hope to never use it, but it’s paramount that we have fast access to enough vaccine if we ever need it,” Roth says. “The funding provided in the 2018 farm bill provides a good start toward building up a more robust FMD vaccine stockpile to help protect American agriculture.”

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