11/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The 2001 foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak in the United Kingdom seems like a distant, bad memory. However, for many in the animal-health realm, it was a rude wake-up call.
Until that outbreak, the standing policy for dealing with a contagious animal disease was a mass culling of livestock in the outbreak zone.
Although the U.K. was able to manage and contain the outbreak, it came with a heavy price — more than 4 million animals, including cattle, sheep and hogs — were killed.
And as Maryland State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus pointed out, only one-fourth were lost due to health reasons. Most were killed because of farmers’ inability to market the livestock or provide feed.
Hohenhaus and Geoff Benson, a North Carolina State University ag economist, spoke at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture on Oct. 25 about the Mid-Atlantic Secure Milk Supply Program, which is working to develop a set of certification guidelines so volunteer farms would be able to continue to market milk during an outbreak.
No one ever wants to see a foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak. The last U.S. case was in the 1920s. But, what would we do if it did happen?
Both speakers stressed that this would be a voluntary program for dairy farmers and processors. There would be farms that would not opt into it, but it would provide some options for marketing milk, which would be better than the complete destruction of the regional dairy economy.
Current policy is to freeze all marketing and dump the milk.
The Secure Milk Supply project was started by Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland.
Delaware and West Virginia joined the group a year ago. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are in the process of joining.
Pennsylvania provides about 30 percent of the milk for the other member states. New Jersey also uses a high volume of Pennsylvania milk at its plants.
There is a similar group in New England, and New York state is in talks to join that group.
The goal of the program is to help the dairy industry get back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible after an outbreak.
Hohenhaus said that during the first couple of days milk marketing would be frozen as animal-health experts evaluated the location and extent of the outbreak.
Then, for certified farms in the control zone around the outbreak, officials would move to certify farms to market their milk to processing plants.
The certification program is still in the development stage. On the farm, it would focus on the biosecurity measures that would be needed to allow a milk truck access for milk pickup without spreading the disease.
Benson said there is not a farm that could pass the standards as of today. He and others have been surveying farms and reaching out to industry to make the program as practical as possible while keeping safety considerations paramount.
Some of the biosecurity measures would include restricted access to the dairy farm, and a wash pad to wash the milk truck before and after milk pickup.
During an outbreak, the farmer or farm employee would have to be certified to sample and hook up the hoses to the milk tank. Benson said it was more biosecure to keep the milk-truck driver in the truck.
Then at the milk plant, there would have to be a strict segregation between the raw-milk and pasteurized-product sides of the plant.
Hohenhaus said the program should be viewed as an “insurance policy” in case an outbreak happens. It would be open to anyone who ships Grade A milk destined for pasteurization.
Hohenhaus said he believes the program would appeal to dairy producers who do not have alternative incomes or who ship large volumes.
The Mid-Atlantic group’s standards have been developed in conjunction with the National Secure Milk Supply Standards, meeting or exceeding the standards, Benson said.
Pennsylvania State Veterinarian Craig Shultz said the reason for the regional programs is to account for the uniqueness of each milk production area.
He said the group recognizes that Pennsylvania has a larger, more diverse dairy industry than the partner states.
To start, Pennsylvania will review the plans developed so far by the Mid-Atlantic group and see how well they would fit with the state’s dairy industry. The department is organizing a small dairy-industry work group for this first step. Then, the state will reach out to dairy-farm groups for additional feedback.
Benson said this milk plan is “not a complete foot and mouth disease plan, it’s just a way to move milk to market.”
He said the plan is a “work in progress” and no date has been set for its rollout. However, for the idea to be successful, he said, “there has got to be a critical mass” of processors and producers signed up and on board.
“We need a discussion on this topic,” Shultz said. “An outbreak would be devastating, and we can’t ignore it” and wait to develop a plan after it happens.
Jay Howes, deputy ag secretary, said one interesting dynamic is the size of the other states’ dairy industries — just over 2,000 farms — compared with Pennsyania’s 7,000 farms.
Through the USDA grant for the program, he said, the state will have the abilty to hire two part-time people to work with dairy farmers interested in participating.
For more information, farmers can contact the department’s Bureau of Animal Heath and Diagnostic Services at 717-772-2852.