Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in livestock can be devastating—not only to the animals affected and those who own them, but to the agricultural economies of impacted countries. The most recent outbreak in the UK in 2001 led to the culling of more than six million sheep, cattle and pigs, and the loss of billions in British pounds.

To prevent a similar situation from happening in this country, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in conjunction with several state departments of agriculture and the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) led a 3-day foot-and-mouth simulation exercise from May 8-10, named Agriculture Response Management and Resources (ARMAR) to advance the nation’s capability to respond to a FMD emergency.  As a critical partner with the California Department of Food and Agriculture in protecting animal and human health in the state, the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS) played a crucial role in this exercise.

The objectives for the simulation exercise were to:

Demonstrate effective communication among the federal, state, local, and industry entities, and among federal and state emergency operations centers;

Define the critical information requirements and prioritization strategies to support requests for and manage scarce or critical resources;

Refine policies and procedures for engaging/requesting support during an FMD response;

Demonstrate procedures for the integration of state and federal information management systems;

Validate FMD response plans; and

Identify gaps in available resources and policies that would be needed to effectively respond to an FMD outbreak.

The complete training comprised a 3-day functional exercise for six states (California, Colorado, Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) and a table-top exercise of shorter duration for six additional states (Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas). While FMD doesn’t pose a human health threat, it is highly infectious and can be spread through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed and by domestic and wild predators. Its containment demands considerable efforts in vaccination, strict monitoring, trade restrictions, quarantines and the culling of animals.

If and when suspected cases of various animal diseases are identified, samples can be sent to any of the four CAHFS facilities in the state (Davis, Turlock, Tulare, and San Bernardino). Early detection, rapid response and vaccination would play a major part in helping to minimize the impacts of an outbreak to the California economy and all impacted livestock industries.

In California, one of the biggest concerns is the potential impact of an FMD outbreak on the dairy industry. The state is now the 5th largest agricultural economy in the world, with a dairy industry valued at approximately seven billion dollars annually. 

“A key need to protect the state’s dairy industry is a milk test to screen for FMD for use as a surveillance tool,” said Dr. Beate Crossley, a virologist specializing in emerging viral infectious diseases. “A delay in the detection of an FMD outbreak could cost up to $565 million per hour—that’s a tremendous impact to our farmers and economy.”

CAHFS Director Pam Hullinger emphasized the partnership of the lab system with the CDFA in being able to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of animal disease outbreaks.

“Early detection of foot and mouth disease is absolutely critical to minimizing the negative impacts of an outbreak,” Hullinger said. “Our long-standing partnership with CDFA enables CAHFS to provide routine diagnostic support and service to the commercial livestock industries in California. This relationship with industry is key to establishing the surveillance that enables early detection and a rapid response by CDFA”.