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Ruptured oral vesicle in a cow with Foot-and-mouth disease. (USDA photo)

Livestock industry wants FMD Vaccine Bank

The U.S. livestock industry, citing the "enormous risk" of foot-and-mouth disease, wants the federal government to spend $850 million to protect against it.

"We know it's a lot of money. But it would be a very good investment," says Ashley Kohls, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association.

More than 100 industry leaders and agricultural groups — including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, the American Sheep Industry Association and the National Milk Producers Federation — are asking Congress to include the following in the 2018 farm bill:

• Annual funding of $150 million in each year of the five-year farm bill for a Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) Vaccine Bank.

• $30 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

• $70 million in grants for state animal health agencies to improve their ability to respond to a foreign animal disease breakout.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious viral disease. It doesn't affect people and isn't considered a public health or food safety threat, but it sickens animals with divided hoofs, including cows, pigs, sheep, goats and deer. Infected animals usually must be killed.

FMD was considered to be eradicated from the U.S. in 1929. It remains widespread in parts of Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East, however.

U.S. livestock officials say that if the disease flares up here, all export markets for U.S. livestock would close immediately — inflicting an estimated $128 billion hit on the beef and pork sectors over 10 years.

Investing in a vaccine bank, before an outbreak, is far better than trying to contain an outbreak after it occurs, livestock officials say in a recent letter to U.S. congressional ag leaders.

The proposal has widespread support from veterinarians, including Gerald Stokka, associate professor of livestock stewardship at North Dakota State University.

"Should the U.S. experience an FMD outbreak — we absolutely pray it does not happen — the response is to limit the spread with quarantine areas and livestock movement restrictions," he says. "Also, animals would be destroyed on premises where the positive animals were identified. The sight of hundreds of animals being destroyed is a public relations nightmare, especially if the spread is not contained," he says.

That's where the proposed vaccine bank would come in.

"The use of vaccination to prevent the spread is certainly a viable alternative to widespread animal destruction and has been shown to be effective when used in this manner," Stokka says.

Licensed and federally accredited veterinarians in the U.S. are trained to be alert for signs of the disease, Stokka notes.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services manages a vaccine bank at Plum Island, N.Y., where a relatively small amount of vaccine, for a limited number of the many FMD strains, is stored as vaccine antigen concentrate. An antigen is a substance that provokes the immune system to generate antibodies against it.

The concentrate isn't a ready-to-use product, however; it would need to be sent overseas to be turned into finished vaccine. That process would take too long to respond successfully to a large outbreak, livestock officials say.

So, livestock officials want to establish a larger vaccine bank with sufficient production capability to cope with a large-scale outbreak.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, was among the congressional ag leaders who received the recent letter promoting the vaccine bank.

"I think it's pretty obvious that something is going to get done," though details, including the amount of funding, are difficult to predict, he tells Agweek.

The National Pork Producers Council has more information:

" target="_blank">nppc.org/issues/issue/fmd-vaccine-bank/.

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