Citing economic, food and national security concerns, a coalition of more than 100 agricultural organizations and allied industries groups urged Congress to include in the next Farm Bill language establishing and funding a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank.
FMD is an infectious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals, including cattle, pigs and sheep; it is not a food safety or human health threat. Although the disease was last detected in the United States in 1929, it is endemic in many parts of the world.
In a letter sent today to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House agriculture committees, the coalition pointed out that “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 U.S. agriculture, the maintenance of food security and affordability … and overall national security.”
According to Iowa State University economists, an FMD outbreak in the United States, which would prompt countries to close their markets to U.S. meat exports – thus creating a surplus of meat on the domestic market – would cost the beef and pork industries a combined $128 billion over 10 years if livestock producers weren’t able to combat the disease through vaccination. The corn and soybean industries would lose over a decade $44 billion and $25 billion, respectively; and economy-wide job losses would top 1.5 million.
“These costs can only be mitigated if the U.S. can mount a swift and thorough response once FMD is detected within our borders,” the coalition wrote. “Such a response is entirely reliant on having an adequate vaccine bank; there is no other option to prevent these catastrophic losses.”
“An outbreak of FMD in this country would be devastating for the U.S. pork industry,” said National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President-elect Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio, and chairman of NPPC’s Farm Bill Policy Task Force. “The next Farm Bill must establish and fully fund a vaccine bank that gives us the ability to quickly control then eradicate this animal disease.”
The United States does not have access to enough FMD vaccine to handle more than a very small, localized disease event, according to a press release from NPPC. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service manages a vaccine bank at Plum Island, New York, where vaccine antigen concentrate for a limited number of FMD strains is stored. If an outbreak occurred, the antigen would need to be shipped to manufacturers in England or France to be turned into finished vaccine and shipped back to the United States.
While the cost of establishing a robust FMD vaccine bank – $150 million annually – is “significant,” it pales in comparison to the projected economic consequences to the agriculture industry and to the nation’s food and national security, the coalition pointed out.