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WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Fallout from a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the U.S. would cost $128 billion over 10 years, representatives of the Washington livestock industry say.
Intentional introduction of foot-and-mouth disease is the biggest concern for the livestock industry, and should be for every American, said Jay Gordon, policy director of the Washington State Dairy Federation.
“A natural disaster would be a lot easier to work through than a foreign animal disease,” agreed Jack Field, executive director of the Washington Cattle Feeders Association. “The challenge we face on large feedyards and dairies just has to do with the sheer volume of traffic in and out.”
Gordon and Field took part in an Oct. 26 food security forum in Walla Walla, Wash.
Field said traceability is critical. Many ranchers are voluntarily tagging their animals to access international markets, which place higher standards on U.S. products, he said.
“Rather than having a state or federal regulator say to a producer, ‘You have to put this tag in,’ when the marketplace says, ‘If you don’t put the tag in, you can’t sell the animal here,’ it’s a pretty short discussion,” Field said.
Gordon spoke of his experiences in various disasters, including floods, fires and the effects of trade wars.
The mad cow case in 2003, when a dairy cow in Washington state was found to have been exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Canada, cost more than $2.5 billion to the beef trade. It was a wake-up call, but it wasn’t really a disaster, Gordon said.
Gordon praised the industry with keeping a consistent message and having a leader in then-state department of agriculture director Valoria Loveland to direct and keep information accurate during the BSE case.
As part of a response team for a bovine issues working group, in a crisis Gordon and Field go to the farm gate to speak to the media to keep people from getting onto the land while the farmer helps state and federal officials.
A disaster requires immediate and local response, then state and hopefully federal assistance. Leaders must listen to many stakeholders and commit to learning, planning and adapting, Gordon said.
An audience member asked how educators can prepare students for the industry’s future security needs.
Field said students need a good work ethic, sharp mind, to be receptive to new technology and willing to adapt.
In a crisis, Gordon said, too few people understand agriculture.
“How do you teach somebody to respond and sit at a kitchen table or community center and say, ‘Sorry all your hay fields burned?’ or ‘Sorry all your markets are gone?’” Gordon said. “Don’t come sit at a kitchen table or Grange hall in the middle of a disaster and think you know everything, because there’s going to be 50 different facets you didn’t think of. The hallmark of really good leaders is they listen really, really well and then make good decisions based on good information.”