More than 120 groups representing the pork, beef, poultry and sheep industries are asking Senate conferees to include a national animal-disease preparedness and response program in the next Farm Bill.
In a letter to the conferees this week, the groups said an outbreak of a foreign animal disease such as foot and mouth or avian influenza has the ability to cripple the entire U.S. agricultural sector and create long-lasting fallout.
A preparedness and response program is included in both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, but both provide only partial funding.
The groups urged conferees to establish and fully fund a permanent three-pronged program to sufficiently prevent, identify and rapidly respond to the potential catastrophic impacts an animal-disease outbreak would have.
It is essential that USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, state animal health officials and stakeholders have the tools to address any potential outbreak, they said.
Those tools need to include robust laboratory capacity for surveillance and diagnostics to enable timely action and a viable vaccine stockpile to rapidly respond to the introduction of high-consequence diseases such as foot and mouth, they said.
“We cannot wait,” the groups stated, pointing to the 2014 outbreak of avian influenza, which cost the U.S. poultry industry more than $3 billion in losses.
“Livestock producers and animal health experts are particularly concerned about the potential introduction of FMD. FMD is at this time the most significant transboundary animal disease in the world and presents the greatest economic threat to U.S. animal agriculture,” they said.
Recent studies indicate the cumulative 10-year loss due to an uncontrolled FMD outbreak would be nearly $200 billion, they said.
In a separate letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, National Pork Producers Council said an FMD outbreak would also lead to 1.5 million job losses and cost the federal government $11 billion to stamp out.
While the disease has not been detected in the U.S. since 1929, it is endemic in many parts of the world, and the U.S. is ill-prepared to deal with an outbreak, James Heimerl, NPPC president, said in the letter.
“Without the ability to control the disease through vaccinations, U.S. meat and dairy export markets — which would close immediately on confirmation of an outbreak — would remain shuttered indefinitely,” he said.
NPPC and the other groups are requesting full funding of $250 million annually to provide for an FMD vaccine bank, state block grants and the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.
The groups pointed out that animal agriculture represents half of all farm cash receipts and more than half when crops for animal feed are included.