Livestock Industry Prevails in Affecting FMD Policy Change

March 25, 2016

Citing the seriousness of the disease and the devastation it could cause the U.S. livestock industry, the American Sheep Industry Association urged congressional lawmakers to make dealing with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease a priority.

"I believe that it is imperative that as a country we continue to move away from a singular approach of stamping out regarding FMD control to one that relies upon cooperation to produce and deliver timely effective vaccination, communication and education," testified ASI Animal Health Committee co-chair Cindy Wolf, DVM from Minnesota before the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture on Feb. 11.

With wide-spread agreement from the U.S. livestock industry, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has changed its policy regarding FMD control. If FMD ever breaks out among U.S. livestock, vaccination will now play a key role in strategies for controlling the disease and limiting financial losses. Depending on the scope of the outbreak, those strategies could call for vaccinating millions of animals across the country, and doing so quickly for maximum benefit.

Wolf pointed out to the subcommittee that sheep are unique regarding FMD clinical signs and diagnoses. Sheep can be infected with FMD and not present remarkable clinical signs as seen with pigs and cattle. Also, sheep are covered with wool for much of the year and tend to move with their heads low so seeing FMD lesions from any distance would be difficult. By the time a sheep in the early stages of FMD is detected, there are other animals somewhere that are in full presentation of clinical signs.

With sheep moving across the continental United States daily and since FMD transmission can be airborne, there are millions of livestock at-risk along routes of commerce if even one animal should be infected.

"Immune response to the vaccine takes several days once the vaccine is given," continued Wolf, "therefore, a large and inclusive vaccination program needs to be done very quickly if a case of FMD is diagnosed."

Wolf pointed out to that APHIS currently doesn't have enough vaccine (or the ability to obtain it) to adequately deal with an FMD outbreak. She offered the following recommendations:
  1. Vaccine contracts need to be adequately funded to ensure there are FMD vaccine banks maintained and ready to launch into production. This includes making the most likely serotypes available, rapid production of the needed number of doses and pre-existing licensure so the vaccine will be legal to use in the United States.
  2. Continue the readiness development process so the executors of the plan know how they will immediately find the flocks needing to be vaccinated, acquire ancillary supplies, manpower and ensure whole farms are vaccinated as rapidly as possible.
  3. Strengthen efforts at airports and border crossings with improved screening techniques and additions to the Beagle brigade.
"It is essential to the security of U.S. agriculture and the country that we are fully prepared and ready to produce potentially needed doses of the appropriate serotype in an extremely rapid timeframe," concluded Wolf. "The plan needs to be flexible enough to be able to provide the appropriate strain in appropriate dosages for North America."

In a stakeholder announcement, APHIS indicated that it would like to have a minimum of 25 million doses for each of the 10 high-risk strains available and would look to incrementally increase the amount of stored FMD vaccine that is readily or quickly available for the agency to use should it be necessary to vaccinate.

FMD is a foreign animal disease that can affect all cloven-hoofed animals, including pigs, cattle and sheep. While it is not a food safety issue, an outbreak in North America, which is currently free of FMD, would have a significantly negative affect on trade, both domestically and overseas.