The United States has been free of foot and mouth disease (FMD) since 1929 and yet the proposed National Bio Agro Defense Facility will place this virus back on the mainland of the US for the first time in recent decades. We know that according to documents provided by the US government , “that all secretions from the infected animal contain virus. Aerosol FMD virus can spread a considerable distance as a plume, depending on weather conditions and the virus can survive in manure and urine for up to six months”. At NC’s NBAF DHS Town Hall meeting, DHS said materials would be placed in a landfill. And then what? Should we just wait for a possible outbreak, soil or ground water contamination? Everyone involved knows that will be to late.
We know the reasons contagious animal diseases like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) are often referred to as economic diseases because of the magnitude of economic harm they can cause to producers and to local communities. In 2005, the potential economic impact of an FMD outbreak in the United States was estimated at $40 billion to $60 billion, according to USDA estimates. In North Carolina, Agribusiness accounts for 62 billion annually. Given the fact that the USDA data is nearly 3 years old, the potential damage is grossly understated and the impacts will be far greater for all concerned whether locally, nationally or internationally.
Joseph W. Reardon, Food Administrator of the Food & Drug Protection Division of North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services said in Congressional testimony , that North Carolina is the only state in the nation to include infectious disease in the list of known and mitigatable hazards under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Basically the act required states to mitigate disaster scenarios such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The state of North Carolina and the Department of Health and Humans Services included within the State’s Hazard Mitigation Plan a list which categorizes disease by route of transmission. By far the most damaging and most costly pathogen examined was foot and mouth disease or FMD.
The focus of Reardon’s testimony was FMD and it’s ability to proliferate quickly throughout the state and the U.S. To summarize he said the following; “we are certain to have a nationwide outbreak before we first detect the disease”. If that event sounds familiar here is why. That is precisely what happened in Surrey, England in 2001 and again in 2007 from a leaky Bio-Lab. We really don’t need one of our own.
Reardon went on to say this about “Crimson Sky” and FMD:
“The foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus, for example, persists on clothing and in animal tissue Little skill or training is required for nefarious individuals to smuggle infected items or meat to the United States and expose susceptible animals, be they cattle or hogs.
When we add to this equation over 20,000 hogs that leave NC every day and the likelihood that terrorists would infect several states simultaneously, we are certain to have a nationwide outbreak before we first detect the disease. These conclusions are consistent with the data garnered from the “Crimson Sky” FMD exercise series conducted by the National Defense University with our Department providing technical expertise.
Findings of the disease modeling from this exercise indicated that if 2 farms were infected, FMD would spread to 12 states within 10 days. If 5 farms are initially infected, then the disease could reach 35 states within the same period of 10 days”.
What is Crimson Sky you might be asking? Crimson Sky, is a FMD scenario-planning exercise run by the U.S. government and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services [NCDA&CS], Emergency Programs Division. The exercise was conducted in 2002, which data modeling showed, that a FMD exposure on five farms led to the virus spreading to 35 states in 10 days. “Crimson Sky” ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation’s National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses. In the simulation, protests broke out in some cities amid food shortages.
Two other simulations also geared toward bio-terrorism risk assessment preformed by DHS and participating states are Crimson Winter and Crimson Guard. Limited information is available on these simulations.
Why would we risk possible widespread contamination with the NBAF and FMD reentry on to the US mainland to successfully develop countermeasures? There is already a company charged with that task by the DHS, USDA and ARS’s (the same group demanding the NBAF). GenVac, Inc. just reported a vaccine break- through for FMD. They also make an argument against the NBAF within their press release.
Consider this from their press release:
“The new vaccine has many benefits. It is administered in a nonreplicating adenovirus. It doesn’t require expensive, high-containment production facilities, and it can be produced safely in the United States because it can be made without using infectious FMD materials“.
March, 18 2008
WASHINGTON — A new vaccine developed by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the Department of Homeland Security and a U.S. biopharmaceutical company holds promise for protection against foot-and-mouth disease.
The new vaccine works quickly, demonstrating effectiveness within seven days. Tests have shown that vaccinated cattle retain immunity for at least 21 days, but scientists expect that future studies will show that the new vaccine at least matches the six months of immunity provided by current vaccines. The new vaccine has been tested on cattle and swine, and is equally effective in both species.
“This signals tremendous promise,” said ARS administrator Edward B. Knipling. “Although this is still an experimental vaccine, it has made significant developmental progress, and we are optimistic about its prospects.”
Although the United States has not had an FMD outbreak since 1929, the disease is still considered a serious threat to the nation’s economy and food supply.
Significantly, as this is the first FMD vaccine produced in the United States, the federal government can plan adequate supplies for the veterinary strategic stockpile. The vaccine is the first molecular-based FMD vaccine for cattle, developed by scientists with ARS, the Department of Homeland Security’s Targeted Advanced Development unit and GenVec, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in Gaithersburg, Md. Additional testing is examining the vaccine’s commercial viability and effectiveness against the various serotypes of FMD virus.
The new vaccine has many benefits. It is administered in a nonreplicating adenovirus. It doesn’t require expensive, high-containment production facilities, and it can be produced safely in the United States because it can be made without using infectious FMD materials.
In addition, the vaccine also makes it possible for scientists to determine whether an animal found to have FMD antibodies acquired them through vaccination or from infection — an important piece of information because of the trade restrictions associated with using current vaccines.
But should we vaccinate? It would appear the jury is still out.
Please consider this from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ( APHIS Veterinary Services )
Reasons Not to Vaccinate
Although there are FMD vaccines available, they are not currently used in this country because the United States has been free of the disease since 1929. There is no need to vaccinate against a disease that no animals have, especially when strict import restrictions are in place. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) imposes import prohibitions on live ruminants and swine and their products from all FMD-affected regions. Additionally, because there is no way of knowing ahead of time what type and subtype of FMD virus might cause an outbreak in the United States, there is no way to know which FMD vaccine to use for protection prior to an outbreak. If an outbreak occurred here, USDA’s first response would be to take swift measures to contain and eradicate the disease.
USDA has several reservations about implementing a vaccination program if FMD is ever detected in the United States. First, there is a risk of spreading the disease. For example, vaccine teams could carry the virus from an infected farm that did not yet have signs of disease, to a clean farm, if proper sanitary proce-dures were not strictly followed. In addition, if a vac-cinated animal is exposed to the disease, that animal could possibly become infected and harbor the virus for an extended period of time. If such an animal later came into contact with an unvaccinated animal, includ-ing deer or other wildlife, disease spread could occur.
Finally, if an FMD vaccination program were imple-mented in the United States, our country’s international trade status would be compromised. Countries that vaccinate for FMD cannot claim FMD-free status, so U.S. livestock exports would face trade restrictions. This could cost U.S. producers millions, if not billions, of dollars. The World Organization for Animal Health’s current Terrestrial Animal Health Code requires FMD-free countries such as the United States to undergo a 3-month waiting period between the time they have slaughtered their last vaccinated animals and the time they can claim FMD-free status, assuming ongoing surveillance and serological testing have demonstrated the country’s freedom from FMD viral activity. In the event that vast numbers of animals are vaccinated, our country could wait many months after the last actual case of disease, while all vaccinated animals are still being slaughtered, before the 3-month waiting period could even begin. This could greatly delay U.S. efforts to re-establish its FMD-free status.
USDA currently maintains a variety of FMD antigens, which could be swiftly finished and deployed as vaccine if officials determined this to be an appropriate response to an FMD outbreak. There are drawbacks to using the vaccine, including its potentially devastating impact on export markets, so USDA’s first response to an outbreak would be one of “stamping out”—imposing animal movement restrictions and eradicating the disease immediately. USDA scientists at Plum Island Animal Disease Center continue to develop and experiment with novel biotechnology to improve the FMD vaccine.
We honestly cannot risk a Crimson Sky like scenario in the US. We should continue to work with the virus OFF the US mainland and utilize and properly fund pharma’s as has been the case for many years. Our luck with this virus will run out as soon as we introduce this pathogen into the evironment whether it’s by a vector, host or landfill. Pirbright residents in England were also given the don’t worry talking points and now they are having as one man put it, “A bumper harvest for farming bankruptcy”.
Additional Resources to read and consider:
Suburban Emergency Management Project (SEMP) Oct. 2007 article (which uses Sunshine Project as a reference of information) High-Containment Biosafety Laboratory Safety Breaches a Growing Concern
2008 DHS Bioterrorism Risk Assessment: Planned Improvements (a PowerPoint Presentation)
Crimson Sky related material;
Tom McGinn and Colonel John Hoffman, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services [NCDA&CS], Emergency Programs Division. “Crimson Sky FMD Terrorist Attack Outcome.” Presented September 2002.
An aside note; The publication is not available on the NC Dept. of Ag website. However, there is a powerpoint presentation that contains data from Crimson Sky’s data sets and you can find it here. Pay close attention to slide 4 as it loads.