Memories fade, but lessons linger

This year marks the 15th anniversary of both the 9-11 attacks in the United States and the horrific outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. One was an act of terrorism; one was a terrifying consequence of an accidental introduction. Members of the food and agriculture sector are sometimes reluctant to think of themselves as “critical infrastructure” as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. However, I think they do consider themselves essential elements of the nation’s economy and way of life. As one of those essential elements, the food and agriculture sector is a critical infrastructure and underlies the nation’s food security. Indeed, every producer can be looked at as critical infrastructure given the interconnected nature of the food and agriculture sector. Without the production and availability of foods, efforts to ensure access and utilization across demographics are futile.

Food producing animals are vulnerable to a number of diseases and pests, some of which don’t currently exist in this country, some that mimic diseases that occur elsewhere, and some that routinely circulate with varying levels of ease. In spite of daily challenges that override the consideration of disease and pest threats, producers and ranchers need to be aware of these threats—be they intentionally or accidentally introduced—and their potential consequences. The poultry and egg industries in 2015 were the subject of the largest animal health event in US history due to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and its eradication. The pork production industries have been dealing with emerging and re-emerging diseases, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and Seneca Valley virus, respectively. Bovine viral diarrhea virus continues to circulate in beef and dairy cattle. In each of these cases, biosecurity is an important tool for stopping the spread of disease.

I am honored to be leading a team that is taking a new look at the barriers and motivators affecting implementation of policies and actions that can stop the spread of disease. You can read more about the project in the newsletters posted here.

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FMD: What’s in a name?

Say “foot-and-mouth disease” really fast.  (Foot-and-mouth disease.)  Did you blur the “and” into an “in”?  Every comedian wannabe is having a hay day with this one.  As my father-in-law says, you don’t need to know much to have an opinion.  Those are the types of opinions being bandied about in the online comments associated with news of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in South Korea.  As I expected, there were vegetarians taking advantage of the situation to rant against animal agriculture.  Unexpectedly, there was frequent discussion of the name of the disease.

As Dr. Steve Van Wie has warned, there were frequent connections made between FMD, the animal disease, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD), the disease of young children.  These are not caused by the same virus at all!!  Someone claimed that FMD took the lives of a couple people in England in 2001.  He may be right if he meant suicides, although he had an under-estimate of that toll of the disease.

I don’t know who officially names diseases, but they might consider listening to these comments.  Crisis communicators talk about making your message clear.  Dispersing the fog of misinformation and getting clear messages across will require attention to multiple media threads and understanding where your audience is coming from.

Originally published Jan 4, 2011

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NIAA Foot-and-Mouth Disease Symposium

Fostering a New Preparedness Paradigm:
Facilitating a Conversation Among Public and Private Sector Stakeholders

Thinking about a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak is not really high on farmers’ lists of things to do. It’s not on their daily agenda of concerns and issues to deal with and they have plenty of those already. When you do get a discussion going around FMD and farmers realize how real the threat is and how serious the consequences could be, the fear can be almost paralyzing. People really don’t like to think about scary things.


Yet, there is common acknowledgement that we need to be prepared for this sort of thing. Most people figure “the government” will tell them what to do in the event FMD is found in this country. To some extent, that is true. But when you start to delve into the plans and policies in place, given the imperfect and not unlimited resources at the disposal of “the government”, you may begin to wonder whether we can do better.

I set out about six years ago to better understand FMD response plans in the US and the role of farmers in those plans. A lot of effort has gone into addressing issues that would become imminent concerns in the event of an outbreak. A key issue for dairy farmers is whether they would be able to ship their milk. Will customer demand be adversely affected? Will movement controls prevent shipping of milk across state lines?

Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) crisis communications staff and partners in the beef and pork industries have been working hard to understand consumer perception and have messages ready to go to assure consumers that milk and meat products are safe to consume and feed to their children in the event of an FMD outbreak.

National and regional groups have been developing “Secure Milk Supply” plans to facilitate decision-making on movement restrictions. Being able to ship milk is understood to be critical to continuity of business for dairy farms but needs to be done in a way that minimizes the chance of spreading FMD.

As I have participated in exercises and meetings, I have concluded that having farmers at the table is absolutely necessary to make sure their perspective is not overlooked and to drive the discussion towards practical workable solutions. In fact, because I feel it is so important for farmers and their organizations to be involved in FMD planning, I partnered with the National Institute for Animal Agriculture to host a special symposium.

The symposium was designed to facilitate the sharing of perspectives on FMD preparedness and response among stakeholders, particularly on the topic of movement restrictions and permitting. I encourage you, whether you are a livestock farmer, agri-business employee, or food retailer, to join the conversation.

The NIAA FMD Symposium white paper can be found at



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Worldwide Effort Focuses on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD)

After the announcement of the eradication of rinderpest in 2011 there was some buzz that foot-and-mouth disease might be next in the quest to rid the world of devastating animal diseases. In conjunction with the Global Conference on Foot-and-Mouth Disease Control in June 2012, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and OIE (World Animal Health Organization) released “The Global Foot and Mouth Disease Control Strategy.” This document sets its sights on control rather than eradication of this transboundary animal disease (TAD). But it is not blindered by naming foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) as the target of the strategy. The document makes a strong case for the need for improvement in veterinary services as an essential component in not only the control of this TAD but in controlling many other diseases that hamper socio-economic progress in developing countries.

The strategy outlines 3 main objectives:

  • Improve global FMD control in a stepwise approach by country or region
  • Strengthen veterinary services to provide surveillance, diagnostic and biosecurity programs
  • Improve the prevention and control of other major diseases of livestock through enhanced surveillance and application of preventive measures such as vaccination

Meanwhile in the western hemisphere, the South American Commission for the Fight Against Foot-and-Mouth Disease (COSALFA) is following its action plan for 2011 – 2020 for countries in the region. Established in 1973, the Pan American Foot-and-Mouth Disease Center (PANAFTOSA) in Brazil led the development of the Hemispheric Plan for Foot-and-Mouth Disease Eradication, first published in 1987. Much progress has been made in the 21st century and PANAFTOSA continues to push for the eradication of FMD from South America.

More in Feedstuffs

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Milk Truck Cleaning and Disinfection Drill in Orwell, VT

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - photo by Louis Bedor III

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - Photo by Louis Bedor III

Orwell, VT – On Saturday, March 31st, UVM Extension, the Addison County Decontamination Team, Orwell Fire Department and Orwell Rescue participated in an on-farm milk truck cleaning and disinfection drill. The drill allowed local responders to meet their training goals while simultaneously meeting goals of a biosecurity project led by Julie Smith, University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Dairy Specialist. The

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - Photo by Louis Bedor III

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - Photo by Louis Bedor III

drill was conducted in accordance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) structure. The cleaning and disinfection procedure followed guidelines drafted by a national Secure Milk Supply project describing how to safely move milk during a foreign animal disease crisis.

Dr. Julie Smith, on-hand for the drill, explained her goals for the event. “This

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - Photo by Louis Bedor III

Addison County Milk Truck Decontamination Drill - Photo by Louis Bedor III

project is engaging farmers and community members in Addison County to learn about and prepare for a highly contagious disease of livestock such as foot-and-mouth disease. Today we wanted to see for ourselves what is needed to conduct cleaning and disinfection according to the Secure Milk Supply guidance.”

After the drill was over, responders returned to the Orwell Fire Station to review responder reactions and suggestions from different team members about the unique situation they faced. Tim Bouton, wearing several hats as Addison County Senior Emergency Planner, New Haven Firefighter, and Addison County Decontamination Team member, remarked, “Trainings like this one are good for our teams to participate in. Understanding the potential challenges from a drill like this will make our teams more prepared in case the unthinkable happens.”

The drill could not have taken place without the permission of the Seiferts of Arbutusland Farm in Orwell, the support of Agri-Mark, Inc., and the cooperation of Kenneth Pope and Sons Trucking that provided a milk truck for the drill. The drill is part of an ongoing UVM Extension study which investigates the costs and challenges associated with developing and implementing a community-wide biosecurity plan. This project is funded in part by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2010-85122-20613 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information about the UVM Extension Biosecurity project, contact UVM Extension Outreach Professional Louis Bedor III at

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Time for an Insurance Check Up

Do you know what your insurance policy states?

Think your insurance carrier covers foot-and-mouth disease? Think again!

When is the last time you reviewed your farm insurance coverage really closely? Reading your policy at bedtime may take care of insomnia, but will it ensure your policy meets your needs?

I recently sat down with a farm insurance carrier in Vermont, which does not carry my own farm’s insurance and would not be focused on my farm’s particulars. My questions were general in nature and garnered the insurance agent’s standard response that answers depend on particulars.

Here are the particulars that matter:

  • What threats (known as perils in insurance-speak) are covered by your policy? Fire, lightning, wind, hail, freezing (barns), milk spoilage, explosion, and vandalism are commonly covered.
  • What endorsements are included in your policy?
  • Have you purchased additional coverage for loss of business income or other perils?

If the trigger for a claim is a covered peril, chances are good the insurance carrier will pay  something out. For instance, if your barn and cows are lost in a fire, and you have fire coverage and loss of income coverage, claims against both may be honored. If, however, your cows are taken for disease control and you suffer a loss of income, a claim for loss of income will be rejected because it was not triggered by a covered peril. Also, if you cannot ship your milk because of contamination or disease, the loss is unlikely to be covered because the trigger is not a covered peril. Animal disease is not a covered peril!

Foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease are not insurable by private carriers for good reason. Such diseases do not have any predictability either in frequency or size of claim so there is no basis for setting a premium for coverage. Given the possibility of claims by a large proportion of insureds in a short period of time, this is not a risk that private insurers can cover. The large-scale risks that are taken on in some parts of the country, e.g. wind damage in hurricane-prone coastal areas or wildfire in the west, result in much higher premiums and a lack of local insurance carriers. In fact, in some areas, no private companies will provide policies and states provide plans.

So where does that leave farms in terms of animal disease risk management options? Figure out how to stop disease from entering your farm premises. Quarantine of herd additions, farm access control, visitor policies, and sanitation requirements for high-risk visitors and their vehicles and equipment should be high on your list of protocols to review or implement in the coming year.

Live well and biosecurely!

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Your Role in Preparation? Being Part of the Conversation

The AFRI biosecurity project held its first Public Issue Forum in Vergennes on September 14. The goals of the forum were to provide background on the impact a highly contagious animal disease emergency (for instance, foot-and-mouth disease) could have on Vermont communities, present several aspects of response preparation, and foster dialogue among various stakeholders.  Andrea Suozzo reported on the forum in the Addison County Independent [].

When asked “What else, if anything, about this issue still needs to be addressed?”, the attendees told us “. . . we only just started!”  “Continue to work with communities on these ‘discussions’”.

To that end we have scheduled a second forum on November 15.  Details can be found in the sidebar.  Hope to see you there!

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Time to Remember; Time to Prepare

Reposted with permission from and by Photographer Ian Britton

As the US marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this month, those in animal health circles are also marking the 10th anniversary of the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. The disease was first confirmed on February 20 and a stop movement order was put in place on the 23rd. Unfortunately the disease had likely been spreading among susceptible livestock through hauling and marketing of animals since late January 2001. With that kind of head start before diagnosis, the disease was widespread by the time control measures were put in place.

The countryside was scarred in more ways than one by this highly contagious disease disaster. The funeral pyres, the burial trenches, the controversial culling of animals on premises contiguous to infected premises led to extraordinary public outcry against the handling of the outbreak. As the outbreak peaked, the government postponed general and local elections from May to June. Tourism and other rural businesses suffered collateral damage to the disease control policy, but were ineligible for indemnity (payments to farmers for loss of livestock). All told, 6 million animals were killed and 2026 farms in Great Britain were directly affected by the time the last case was diagnosed in September 2001. The outbreak was officially declared over in February 2002. The estimated cost of the outbreak was equivalent to $13 billion.

Learn what you can do to prevent or respond effectively to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.  The following producer supported site is a great place to start:

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Why worry about FMD here in Vermont?

Those of us working to build preparedness among farmers and farm communities to withstand a highly contagious animal disease disaster like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) often get questions along the lines of these:

  • “Don’t the veterinarians already have a plan in place to deal with such an outbreak?”
  • “Doesn’t the state Agency of Agriculture and Vermont Emergency Management have plans?”

Of course they do.  I think it’s reasonable to say our local, state, and federal vets know their roles.  Our  animal health folks know what their authorities are.  They are ready to respond.

Realistically, however, most large-scale disasters are beyond the scope of a plan to easily contain.  The more people who are prepared to do their part the better.  There is no doubt a highly contagious animal disease emergency could be a disaster.  Farmers need some knowledge of the responses that state and federal authorities would make so they can factor the impact of those actions into their own plans.

Let’s use a wild fire as an analogy to a highly contagious disease event.  The fire may be first identified in a specific area and resources will be directed at containing and controlling the fire.  High winds can move fire beyond the fire breaks or in unexpected directions.  Just as fire needs air and fuel and travels with winds, contagious animal diseases affect susceptible species brought in contact by animal movements or movements of people and equipment.  Airborne spread is also possible with FMD.  The challenge with FMD is that you can’t feel or see it smoldering as it incubates in recently infected animals.  The responders go put out the fire – cull animals where disease has been diagnosed – and try to figure out where it might pop up next — the fires smoldering at other facilities – and contain the disease there, too.  Unless our veterinarians are possessed with special powers, they are unlikely to get it exactly right.  This is why community- and commodity-wide preparedness as promoted by this project would go a long ways toward keeping the fire from burning out of control.

(*First posted on Jan. 4, 2011*)

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Texting O K

What should you do if you want to know your family is safe after a weather, terror, or other emergency event?  Text first.  Talk second.  The Safe America Foundation has launched a “text first/talk second” campaign coinciding with the anniversary 9/11.  Think about it.  Texting “I M O K” takes less than 2 seconds and uses a fraction of the bandwidth of a call.  In fact, 800 people can text “I M O K” in the bandwidth required for one phone call.  If you need a primer on texting, see a teenager.

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