Science flashes warning signs on USDA's Brazil proposal
— Part I: Low risk vs. negligible risk; is either acceptable?
Most folks in the meat industry know that the USDA has proposed allowing fresh beef in several forms from a country where Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) is present in more states than it is under control; Brazil.
But a careful examination of the science associated with FMD and the research available on the potential to spread it via fresh meat flashes warning signs all over USDA’s proposal.
The science shows that it is theoretically possible to achieve a negligible risk of fresh meat bringing FMD into the country—if a long list of practices, surveillances and procedures are optimally achieved at both cattle production and cattle slaughter levels. But there are too many things that have to be done right and too many things we don’t know to be absolutely certain without more research.
And that raises a separate question: Is “negligible” satisfactory for America’s meat industry—regarding one of the most contagious and easily carried animal diseases on earth— as a trade for virtually no risk we have now?
It is frightening that the USDA Proposed Rule is startlingly lacking regarding key elements of the requirements recommended by expert organizations.
We’ll get specific about key points but consider these statements from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the globally recognized objective and scientific authority on animal health and trade: “However, neither data on the safety of trade in the commodity to date nor a risk assessment of the survival of FMDV during the preparation of the commodity, under currently recommended procedures, provide conclusive evidence that the risk is negligible without measures that reduce the likelihood of infected cattle being presented for slaughter.”* In other words, proper slaughter facility procedures and sanitation, product processing and “maturation” are not enough to flatly assure FMD can’t get here, given scientific information to date. The OIE makes it plain that a list of things need to be done long before animals are presented for slaughter—key components absent from US- DA’s proposal.
For example, there are seven different serotypes of the FMD virus, each with their own strains, totaling over 60 different strains. Vaccination with one serotype does not provide protection against other serotypes. OIE recommends two vaccinations. More importantly, OIE puts a lot of emphasis on knowing what strains are circulating not only within one country’s herd but in surrounding regions so that one can select the proper serotypes and strains to vaccinate for.
The problem is that Brazil’s export area states are surrounded by “no recognized status” states on one side, bordered by “no recognized status” zones in Bolivia along part of the adjacent border and Paraguay whose status as a “free with vaccination” country was only restored in 2013, after a 2011 outbreak. It can’t be an accident that the two Brazilian states that most recently had FMD outbreaks border Paraguay.
We haven’t been there but from topographic maps it is obvious there are no mountains and no big rivers separating Paraguay and Brazil, much less any buffer zone to neutralize a disease than can travel 30-70 miles in the air.
But how are Brazil’s veterinarians to administer a proper, certified, accurate program monitoring serotypes and strains in other countries, like Bolivia and Paraguay? They do so in Brazil but no mention is made of a thorough program conducted in surrounding countries.
A basic understanding of this disease is necessary to evaluate the appropriateness of the USDA’s Proposed Rule. Because FMD has not occurred in the U.S. in most of our lifetimes, we are not familiar with its infectiveness and effects. Here is a brief summary, drawn from the Center for Food Security and Public Health-Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
FMD is a highly contagious viral disease, primarily affecting cloven-hooved animals. Adult animals generally recover but in previously unexposed populations, the infection rate is very high. Significant pain and distress occurs and effects can include decreased milk yield, permanent hoof damage and chronic mastitis. High death rates can be seen in young animals.
As mentioned, there are seven distinct serotypes and over 60 strains within these serotypes. Immunity to one serotype does not provide any cross-protection to other serotypes.
Cross protection among strains varies.
Domestic livestock susceptible include cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and reindeer. Susceptible wildlife includes bison, elk, moose, deer and antelope. Susceptible non-cloven hooved species include rats, mice, armadillos and hedgehogs.
FMDV (virus) can be found in all secretions and excretions from acutely affected animals: expired air; saliva; milk; urine; semen; and manure. Pigs, especially, produce large quantities of aerosolized virus.
Animals can shed FMDV for up to four days before symptoms occur. Virus is present in large quantities in vesicle (blister) fluid and peak transmission usually occurs when vesicles rupture.
Transmission can occur by direct or indirect contact with infected animals or contaminated objects, including: inhalation of aerosolized virus; ingestion of contaminated feed; and virus entry through skin abrasions or mucous membranes. FMDV can be transmitted on vehicles. Airborne transmission can occur under favorable climatic conditions. In Great Britain, FMDV is suspected to have been transmitted by airborne route from Brittany to Jersey (approximately 30 miles) and from Jersey to the Isle of Wight (approximately 70 miles). FMDV appears to remain viable in the environment on average for three months or six months in very cold climates (cattle manure for six months).
In humans, FMDV can be carried in the nasal passages for as long as 28 hours but data is limited and biosecurity measures may eliminate this route.
Symptoms include blisters on the feet, in and around the mouth and on the udder. Other locations are possible. Blisters often rupture quickly and pain and discomfort from the lesions leads to depression, anorexia, excessive salivation, lameness and reluctance to move. Severe cases can slough hooves. Pregnant animals may abort.
Most adults recover in two to three weeks, although longer recovery times may stem from secondary infections. Drop in milk production, lameness, mastitis and weight loss may be permanent.
FMDV can be detected by virus isolation, detection of antigens and serology (blood test). Serological tests can also be used to certify animals for export. Some vaccinated animals that are persistently infected may not be detected by certain blood tests.
*“Qualitative Assessment of the Commodity Risk Factor for Spread of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Associated with International Trade in Deboned Beef,” OIE ad hoc Group on Trade in Animal Products, 10/2009; D. J. Paton, UK; M Sinclair, South Africa; R Rodriguez, Argentina. — Steve Dittmer, Agribusiness Freedom Foundation
[This is Part I of a fourpart series originally published in the AFF Sentinel, an e-newsletter published by Agribusiness Freedom Foundation. Reprinted here with permission. Part II will appear next week. Contact the author at email@example.com, see current issues on Facebook, or view archived columns on agribusinessfreedom.org.]