US foot and mouth disease outbreak could cost $188bn

1 March 2016

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the US could have catastrophic consequences for the multi-billion dollar livestock industry, according to the US government’s Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee.

A meeting to discuss US preparedness for an outbreak heard an FMD outbreak could cost the economy $188bn but there were insufficient stocks of vaccine available.

FMD, which causes illness in cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, and other animals with divided hooves, was last recorded in the US in 1929.

Committee chairman David Rouzer, a Republican Congressman, said: “If an FMD outbreak occurs here the disease could spread rapidly to all regions of the country through routine livestock movements, unless we detect it early and eradicate it immediately."

He said it would deliver “a very harsh economic effect” that would be felt beyond animal agriculture.

“I have seen a recent estimate focusing on the pork industry, estimating an annual impact of $12.8bn,” he said.

Directives are in place establishing a national policy to defend the farming and food system from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies, while vaccines have been stockpiled to deal with an outbreak.

However, the committee heard that currently the amount of vaccine available is below what would be required for an outbreak and funding is insufficient to provide adequate stockpiles.

The committee was told it would cost an estimated $150m a year over five years to develop a vaccine stockpile, although this could be reduced with adequate planning.

Cumulative losses to consumers and livestock producers from an FMD outbreak could amount to $188bn, while a vaccine strategy could cut this bill in half, according to the National Pork Producers Council. The council urged the committee and Congress to address “the alarming gap in the preparedness for an FMD outbreak”.

Michael Conaway, Agriculture Committee chairman and Republican Congressman, said: “Our nation’s security depends on our ability to ensure our agriculture industry is safe from threats to animal and plant health. It is essential we have all of the plans and infrastructure in place so we can be suitably prepared against intentional or unintentional introduction of plant or animal pests and disease.”

The hearing formed part of a series by the committee highlighting the importance of agriculture to national security.

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