When it comes to emergency management in the U.S., agriculture has been a relative newcomer to the table. But efforts are under way to bring ag into emergency plans – right down to the county level.

"Many counties in states across the country have a plan that includes ag, but many more don´t," said Billy Dictson, director of the Office of Biosecurity in the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University. "One of the things that really concerned us was that in 3,000-some counties across the country, most of them are silent on agriculture."

Speaking at “Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning” workshops last month in Kansas, Dictson said greater concern surfaced about the safety of our food supply after 9-11. “Remember, every plane, including crop dusters, was grounded for several days after 9-11. At that time, ag didn´t really have a place at the national `table.´ I would submit that if we ever have a foreign animal disease incident introduced, it will far surpass the devastation caused by 9-11."

The threats to ag can be accidental, natural or intentional, Dictson said. He cites notes found in an Afghanistan cave that had lists of plant and animal diseases, including foot and mouth disease, hog cholera, rice blast and maize rust.

"Information about how to attack the U.S. food supply has been known for some time, but so far, state-sponsored groups or individuals have not chosen to attack our food supply," he said.

"I submit that if those kinds of lists of agents that can be used against the food and ag industry in the U.S. are in the hands of state-sponsored terrorists, they are there for no good reason," Dictson said.

The U.S. also runs the risk that disease might be brought in, intentionally or not, via illegally imported livestock, Dictson said. "Animal smuggling is second only to drug smuggling in this country," the biosecurity specialist said.

Andrea Husband, agrosecurity program coordinator at the University of Kentucky, reminded workshop participants about the financial and emotional toll of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001.

The direct economic impact from that incident totaled about $3.3 billion (in U.S. dollars) and another $8.3 billion in lost tourism and related industry revenue, she said. By the end of the 221-day outbreak, more than 6 million animals were euthanized.

"But it doesn´t take a big outbreak to have a huge economic impact," Husband said. She cited the financial impact sparked by one cow confirmed to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington, including beef export losses that ranged from $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion.

"Domestic cattle prices dropped 16% in the first week alone and international trade restrictions still exist," she said.

Information about emergency preparedness and disaster recovery resources available through K-State Research and Extension is available at www.kseden.ksu.edu.
-- K-State release