COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The increasing rate of emerging and reemerging animal diseases, along with threats and attempts by those with nefarious intent to attack food and agriculture, point to the need to reduce the biological risk to America’s food and agricultural sector.
That is the finding of a new report released from the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense: Defense of Animal Agriculture. This is the first in a series of special focus reports. It includes the Panel’s evaluation of threats to animal agriculture, central to the health and well-being of the population and the security of one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy.
“From technology development and biological research to domestic and international training, every aspect of our work at IIAD relates back to contributing to national security through protecting our food and agriculture sector,” said Dr. Melissa Berquist, Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases director. “This report recognizes the critical nature of work performed not only by the Institute, but also by investigators across the Texas A&M University System — including partners like the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (TAMU CVM) — and I’m hopeful for the progressive actions and conservations that will be generated in response.”
This is the first in a series of special focus reports. It includes the panel’s evaluation of threats to animal agriculture, central to the health and well-being of the population and the security of one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy.
“Every year, we discover new threats to the Nation that could severely impact our animal agriculture,” said Sen. Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader and Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense Panel Member. “Whether these threats arise here at home or abroad, we need to ensure that both domestic and international agrodefense efforts occur in concert. Governmental and non-governmental stakeholders also need to work together to eliminate vulnerabilities and reduce potential consequences that would affect our animals, lives, and economy. Implementing the proposals contained in this new report will prevent illness, death, and economic disaster.”
Daschle pointed to a recent outbreak of avian influenza as an example of the devastating economic impact of zoonotic disease. In December 2014, a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza entered the United States via migrating wild birds. The ensuing outbreak resulted in the largest animal health disaster ever experienced by the United States. Federal and state governments spent $879 million on outbreak response. The outbreak impacted 21 states, lasted until the middle of 2015, and led to the depopulation of more than 50 million birds on 232 farms. Subsequent trade bans impacted as many as 233,770 farms. The total cost to the U.S. economy was estimated at $3.3 billion.
“The avian influenza outbreak is one of several examples that demonstrate just how important it is for our food animal industries to not only prepare for emerging and reemerging diseases through increased biosecurity practices and biological research, but also to further prepare for responding to large-scale disease event,” said Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M. “By developing more efficient response plan and increasing communication, we can reduce the physical and economic impact of an outbreak, increase efficiency in depopulating infected animals, and work to quickly reopen our markets for trade.”
It was recently announced that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) will be opening a U.S. liaison office in College Station, Texas, later this year. As the intergovernmental organization responsible for improving animal health worldwide, the OIE oversees the regulation of international markets for trade of animals and animal products, and is also the standard-setting body for animal health regulatory activities.
“Having an OIE liaison office located within the U.S. will be a crucial resource for our food animal industries – prior to, during, and in the aftermath of an outbreak,” Berquist said. “In the event that our markets are closed due to a disease outbreak, our industries will be able to work with OIE U.S. liaison office in order to understand and implement the measures necessary to quickly regain recognition of trade status.”
The panel views protection of agriculture – the cultivation and breeding of animals and plants for food, fiber and other products used to sustain human life — as a critical element of national biodefense. While nearly all of the Panel’s 2015 Blueprint for Biodefense recommendations apply, some are especially important for agrodefense and deserve particular attention in this context.
“The goal of this report is to elucidate some key, persistent challenges and to propose feasible solutions,” said Sen. Daschle. “We think that our Defense of Animal Agriculture report will stimulate further conversation and most importantly, action, by both the public and private sectors.”