When people go shopping for food on their dinner table, they may consider its nutritious value and its cost, but many don’t consider the farmer and rancher behind every piece of food on their plate. For every bite you take, the agricultural community strives to provide a healthy, abundant food supply. But, let’s dig even deeper and on a global security level.
Each morning on the news, there is typically stories of terrorism across the globe. In a world that can sometimes seem unstable and hostile, it has become even more critical that we look at areas that could be exposed to intentional acts of terrorism, and livestock health rates high on that list for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
While we focus on the day-to-day health and well-being of livestock, we must also be aware that agro-terrorism is a reasonable threat. It is vital that we prepare for serious incidents that could potentially devastate our livestock industry. This includes an intentional act of terrorism or an unintentional introduction of a foreign animal disease through the spread of a microbial agent.
Why is this important? The agricultural community plays a tremendous role in our way of life including our food and our economy.
In Colorado, agriculture represents an important component of our state’s overall economic health. Agriculture generates over $40 billion in economic activity, supports over 170,000 jobs across our state, and contributes $2 billion in exports annually.
Animal agriculture is a key part of that effort. In 2013, livestock and livestock products accounted for over 65 percent of all farm receipts in Colorado, with cash receipts for cattle and calves expected to reach a record high of $3.7 billion in 2014. Colorado ranks 10th nationally for cattle and calves production, 2nd for sheep and lambs, 3rd for wool production, and 5th for cattle that are on feed.
We have cattle and calves in virtually every county of the state. Dairy cows are increasing in numbers, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of Colorado, with the dairy industry’s economic impact growing daily. Hogs and pigs and sheep and lambs all contribute to the health of Colorado’s animal industry in important ways.
It has been estimated that on any given day in Colorado there are 50,000 head of cattle “on wheels.” That is the “norm” for animal agriculture in many other states too. The U.S. pork industry estimates that there are over 600,000 head of swine being transported each and every day in the U.S.
Movement of livestock in the U.S. not only increases our vulnerability to a foreign animal disease but also complicates our livestock emergency response efforts. Yet if the livestock industry has excessive restrictions placed on its movement, the restrictions could contribute to a very large economic loss during a disease outbreak.
As you can see, if there is a breakdown in Colorado’s livestock industry, it could create problems within our food system, economy and transportation.
As your agricultural arm of the state, we focus our efforts on protecting our livestock industry through planning and training for livestock emergency incidents. Some examples are:
CDA livestock emergency disease response plans (www.colorado.gov/ag/animals); Building the Colorado Rapid Response for Agriculture and Livestock (CORRAL), a program to train a ready reserve of livestock emergency responders and develop other resources for an effective and efficient response; Colorado Secure Milk Supply Plan—a joint effort in the state to plan for the movement of milk during a disease outbreak, which will help to keep dairy farmers in business; Development of Agreements between Colorado animal health officials and our border states to collaborate on how to deal with the movement of livestock across state lines in the face of a significant livestock disease; Planning for the disposal of livestock carcasses when there have been mass mortalities of animals; The Colorado National Veterinary Stockpile Plan, which gives Colorado access to the national supply of veterinary supplies like equipment and vaccines to adequately respond to significant disease outbreaks; and Collaborating with Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation to develop a plan for implementing livestock movement controls and permitting to reduce the spread of disease when a major disease has been diagnosed.
There is no question that a major outbreak of a foreign animal disease or an agro-terrorism incident in Colorado could do serious harm, threatening not only the livelihood of producers across the state, possibly increasing the health risks to the consuming public, as well. At the end of the day, the result could be highly significant costs to both human and economic health.
As a state, we have to be prepared to respond to such a risk. It is critical that we understand that responding to an emergency, whether it be a terrorism incident or a disease outbreak, managing it and controlling it will require a concerted effort across multiple agencies involving many dedicated people. It will require collaboration, communication, and teamwork between the states, federal entities, and the livestock industry. To be effective and efficient, we must be partners in preparedness, response, and recovery. — John Salazar, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture
[Editor's Note: This was supposed to be the 4th installment of our FMD series, but due to a file error involving similarly-titled files, this was put in the paper instead. We will run the culmination of the FMD story in the June 2 paper. Our apologies for the mix-up and any inconvenience.]