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Foreign Disease Threats

Many feel that the risk of a foreign animal disease impacting U.S. livestock is greater than ever before.

The well-publicized foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in the United Kingdom has heightened awareness by producers and veterinarians, says Mark Engle, DVM, director of Swine Health Programs, National Pork Board (NPB).

Hog cholera outbreaks have also multiplied. The disease has existed for years in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and in parts of Mexico.

That concerns Tom Burkgren, DVM, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV).

Burkgren is also worried that agriculture is remiss in developing an action plan for his members to follow should an FAD strike a client's farm.

Risks, Responses

Engle agrees national biosecurity challenges are daunting. A number of animal disease pathogens are easily accessible and require no special technology to introduce them. The susceptible animal population in the U.S. is vast and unprotected, he says. Also, more than 20 million animals enter the U.S. each year, including large numbers of pigs from Canada and cattle from Mexico.

About $430 million has been allocated to replace most of the ‘60s and ‘70s USDA research facilities at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) and the National Animal Disease Center, on 480 acres in Ames, IA. NVSL diagnostic laboratory director Randall Levings, DVM, reports completion of the six-year project is slated for 2006.

Also, the USDA Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York is outdated and awaits funding for renovation. These are the only two labs in the U.S. doing diagnostic work on FADs.

Beth Lautner, DVM, vice president of Science and Technology, NPB, reports that efforts are underway to develop the capability for more laboratories to participate in FAD screening and diagnosis.

Changing Roles

Until recently, protection against FADs was mainly USDA's charge, including control, diagnosis and evaluation of risks.

Today, pork producers have a growing role in protecting animal agriculture. They are actively involved in forming the National Animal Health Emergency Management System Steering Committee. Producers continue to represent the industry on the Secretary of Agriculture's Advisory Committee on FADs, currently led by Illinois pork producer James Niewold, chair of the NPB's Swine Health Committee.

Checkoff funds have also been invested in research efforts on FMD with USDA at Plum Island.

A literature-based review of science-based biosecurity steps for disease preparedness, requested by the National Pork Board, was conducted at Purdue University by Sandy Amass, DVM. The National Biosecurity Resource Center Web site is at

The Pork Board has also developed security and biosecurity guide checklists for pork producers under the direction of the Swine Health Committee. The Security Guide was produced to minimize the risk of an intentional act to harm a producer's herd. The Biosecurity Guide has sections on isolation biosecurity and indirect spread of disease. The documents are online at, and a 16-min. video on Foreign Animal Disease Awareness is also available by calling the Pork Board at (515) 223-2600. A new section in the Pork Quality Assurance program deals with FADs.

Engle encourages producers to have written plans that cover farm security and biosecurity.

USDA has developed a CD on Recognition of Foreign Animal Diseases for swine veterinarians, available from the AASV, (515) 465-5255.