Animal Health in the Farm Bill: The Cornerstone to Food Security

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By: Commissioner Michael G. Strain, NASDA President, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry

In 2015 we endured our largest and most expensive animal health emergency in U.S. history when Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) swept across 15-states, causing the forced depopulation of 48 million chickens and turkeys and a $3.3 billion economic impact.  Unfortunately, we have seen several additional avian influenza incidents in recent months. 

As a large animal veterinarian, I have seen first-hand the crippling effects animal disease outbreaks have on U.S. poultry and livestock producers and our rural economies. Congress has an opportunity to mitigate these impacts in the next Farm Bill by establishing an Animal Pest and Disease Disaster Prevention Program – a much needed preventive approach to addressing the myriad of devastating livestock and poultry disease incidents we have been facing over the past several years.  This call to arms requires the development and timely deployment of all measures necessary to prevent, identify and mitigate the potential catastrophic impacts that an animal disease outbreak would have on our country’s food security, exports, and overall economic stability. 

According to a study by Iowa State University, an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) alone would close valuable export markets causing an estimated $200 billion economic impact over 10-years. Jobs would be lost, multi-generational family farms would be closed, and rural communities across the U.S. would be devastated.

Congress has an opportunity to mitigate these high consequence animal diseases in the next Farm Bill by creating and funding this new prevention program. This three-tiered program would provide state and federal officials and the livestock community with:

  1. Rapid response capability at the state level.
  2. A robust and rapidly deployable vaccine bank.
  3. Sufficient laboratory capacity for disease surveillance.

As highlighted in recent Congressional testimony by NASDA CEO Dr. Barbara P. Glenn, this “boots on the ground” effort will deliver early detection and rapid response activities necessary to protect the nation’s animal agriculture industry. In addition, the program will build upon the 2014 Farm Bill’s authorization of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) and make available additional federal resources to states, industry, and universities to reduce disease impact and support research needs. The program would also provide for a resource which is currently inaccessible and underfunded: a vaccine bank. The establishment of this rapidly deployable vaccine bank will deliver sufficient vaccinations on short notice to meet our needs in the early stages of an outbreak.

It is critical that the new Farm Bill address these risks to animal health while likewise bolstering the long-term ability of U.S. animal agriculture to be competitive in the global marketplace and provide consumers around the world safe, wholesome, affordable food produced in a sustainable manner.

Please be sure to check back on May 23 as we take a look at how the next Farm Bill can make a significant impact developing and enhancing international markets for farmers and value-added food producers.

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