WASHINGTON, February 8, 2012 -Quietly and with little fanfare, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is mulling a significant change in its response to a potential Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak, recognizing that suppressing a widespread outbreak in a timely manner would be difficult to achieve.

The agency has been soliciting input from livestock industry groups since last May, Agri-Pulse has learned. Rank-and-file members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association members were briefed last week about what a “flexible response strategy” might look like during their annual meeting in Nashville.

The U.S. has been free of FMD since 1929 and has extensive prevention, surveillance and response measures in place to prevent its reintroduction and spread. The current strategy is built around stamping out and disposal, requiring infected animals to be destroyed and buried within 24 hours.

“We cannot meet these schedules today,” APHIS says.

The “new approach,” as Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator, Veterinary Services, described it to NCBA members, emphasizes vaccination – rather than large-scale depopulation ‑ of cattle to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious disease.

Clifford, who’s also USDA’s Chief Veterinarian, said a massive depopulation campaign in the immediate aftermath of an FMD or other foreign animal disease event “wouldn’t be tolerated and we can’t afford it, frankly, and we can’t even do it.”

Because FMD poses no threat to human health, “animals recovered from FMD should be able to be slaughtered and the meat used,” he argued.

The U.S., according to Clifford, will lobby the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to modify its regulations governing meat exports from FMD-infected countries.

“We know how to mitigate the risk of this disease,” he said.  “If we vaccinate animals to live and we can tell the difference between a vaccinated animal and field strain of a virus, we can regain our markets ‑ even with the use of a vaccine.”

Under existing OIE rules, countries must eradicate FMD prior to resuming meat exports. As part of the revised strategy, APHIS is working to determine how many doses of vaccine would be needed to control the virus in the event of an outbreak, as well as where they’ll come from. No U.S. drug companies manufacture vaccines for FMD.


Original story printed in February 8, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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