Tracing Diseases and Terrorism in Colorado

COLORADO, US - Concerns regarding animal diseases and related perceptions about food safety have escalated substantially in recent years. The terrorist attack on the United States in September 2001 greatly increased awareness of vulnerability of U.S. agriculture to bioterrorism.
calendar icon 26 August 2008
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In addition to heightened bioterrorism concerns, increased globalization and world travel make transmission of foreign animal diseases more probable, writes Dustin Pendell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics Colorado State University.

Discovery of a dairy cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States in 2003 and the subsequent loss of world beef markets for the U.S. demonstrate the economic impact animal health can have on livestock and related industries. The BSE incident resulted in immediate closure of major U.S. beef export markets (including Japan and Korea). Losses to the U.S. beef industry resulting from export restrictions during 2004 have been estimated to range from $3.2 to $4.7 billion.

The UK has experienced two recent foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks, 2001 and 2007. FMD was confirmed in cull sows at an abattoir in Great Britain on February 20, 2001. At least 57 premises were infected by the time the first case was identified. By September 30, 2001 when the outbreak was eradicated, 221 days after the initial outbreak, 2,026 cases of FMD had been confirmed, approximately 6.5 million animals were destroyed, and the disease had spread to Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. It took an additional 114 days (until January 22, 2002) for the UK to gain “FMD-free without vaccination” status by the OIE. It has been estimated losses from FMD in the UK to be $10.7 to $11.7 billion U.S. This illustrates the economic impact such a disease outbreak can have and the need to understand probable economic impacts of a highly contagious disease in order to develop effective public policy.

The most recent FMD outbreak in the UK (which was confirmed on August 3rd) was declared over (i.e., FMD free status by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE)) on February 22, 2008. After further investigation, it was determined that the FMD virus leaked out from drainage pipework at the Pribright laboratory, which houses the Institute for Animal Health and Merial Animal Health, contaminating the soil and then was transported via vehicles to a nearby farm. This outbreak was less severe than the 2001 outbreak because there were systems in place. For example, the government’s crisis management team was convened within three hours of the first case being confirmed in 2007 compared to the 2001 outbreak in which it did not meet for 31 days.

One possible way to combat spread of contagious diseases is through animal traceability. Ability to rapidly identify locations where an animal has been affects the ability to isolate, trace, and arrest spread of the disease. Animal traceability systems are rapidly developing throughout the world, and the U.S. is behind many other countries in this development. Efforts to develop animal ID systems in the U.S. were launched prior to the initial BSE discovery, but they gained considerable momentum afterwards. The goals of the National Animal Identification System are to:

  1. “enable industry partners and State and Federal animal health officials to respond rapidly and effectively to animal health emergencies such as foreign animal disease outbreaks or program diseases (diseases that have surveillance programs in place) with potentially significant animal health, public health, economic, or social consequences;

  2. support ongoing animal health safeguarding and disease detection and response capabilities in order to complete current eradication programs;

  3. protect United States exports and meet the growing international market demand for systems that provide timely animal identification capabilities, thus expanding international trade opportunities; and,

  4. protect domestic markets and consumer confidence, thus increasing overall consumer demand that benefits all producers”

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