**Extended story highlighted in blue.
Secure Milk Supply Plan spearheads disease preparedness
It’s arguably the U.S. dairy industry’s worst shared nightmare: an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
This potential horror show involves three possible scenarios: your farm is in a movement control area and you cannot ship milk for weeks on end; you’re prevented from shipping milk for three days while the extent of the disease is assessed; or you’re free to ship your milk at present, but that could turn on a dime if the disease spreads to your area.
Regardless of which situation applies to you during an FMD outbreak, the big question you will face is: What do you do, starting now?
"The answer lies in having a well-developed response plan in place before FMD hits," says Geoff Benson, agricultural economist emeritus with North Carolina State University. "The survival of a large piece of the U.S. dairy industry hinges on this. Once FMD is here, it will be too late to develop plans for permitting milk to move, because disease control measures will take priority."
Keenly aware of the animal quarantine and milk movement issues that FMD would create, stakeholders have initiated the Secure Milk Supply (SMS) Plan, a U.S. dairy industry effort to ensure continuity of business in the event of an FMD outbreak.
Since 2009, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has provided funds to the University of California (UC), Davis; Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health; and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety to facilitate FMD preparedness throughout the country. Additional SMS partners include USDA’s National Center for Animal Health Emergency Management, its Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health and state animal health officials.
Launched in coordination with the existing USDA–APHIS National FMD Response Plan, the SMS Plan embraces several key goals:
- Detect, control and contain FMD as quickly as possible.
- Eradicate FMD using strategies that stabilize animal agriculture, the food supply and the economy.
- Provide science- and risk-based approaches and systems that facilitate continuity of business for noninfected animals and noncontaminated animal products, including milk and milk products.
"Our initial steps are to develop agreed upon processes and procedures to pick up, transport and pasteurize raw milk from uninfected farms in an FMD control area," says Jon Zack, director of preparedness and incident coordination for APHIS Veterinary Services’ Emergency Management and Diagnostics unit.
"In cooperation with states, industry and academic institutions, Veterinary Services is conducting a proactive risk assessment for the transport of raw milk from the dairy farm to the processing plant that considers existing production practices with subsequent evaluation of proposed biosecurity mitigation procedures," Zack elaborates. "We are also developing agreed upon decision support guidance and tools to facilitate timely permitting and movement of raw milk from dairy farms in an FMD control area."
APHIS is encouraging states and the dairy industry to develop FMD biosecurity programs that will work best for them.
"Our mission is to get information to producers now so they know how to be best prepared to minimize the effects of FMD," says Pam Hullinger, a veterinarian with UC Davis. "We want to maintain business continuity for all dairy producers, haulers and processors. Our desired outcome is mutually acceptable and understood response approaches that allow disease control without destroying the dairy industry."
Ultimately, SMS will become an annex to the APHIS Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (FAD PReP), outlined in Foot-and-Mouth Disease Response Plan: The Red Book.
"The SMS Plan provides more detailed guidance on how raw milk can be moved safely to processing than FAD PReP currently does," Hullinger says.
There hasn’t been an FMD outbreak in the U.S. since 1929. However, because FMD is present throughout two-thirds of the world and endemic in parts of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America, there is significant potential risk to the U.S. The 2001 FMD outbreak in the UK cost more than $10 billion.
Major game changers that have heightened the risk in recent years are the global movement of goods and services, changes in the FMD virus, its potential value as a terrorist weapon and outbreaks among U.S. trading partners.
"Thus, the key question for emergency managers has changed from ‘If FMD breaks in the U.S.’ to ‘When it breaks, how can we minimize the damage?’" says Richard Horwitz, a consultant to the New England States Animal Agriculture Security Alliance.
Three SMS working groups are currently drafting guidelines on processes and procedures to be implemented should an FMD outbreak occur. A Cleaning and Disinfection group is focused on standard operating procedures to meet SMS biosecurity performance standards, step-by-step procedures that can be adapted to every farm. A Risk Assessment group is reviewing raw milk risk assessment, while a Milk Movement Matrix/Decision Support group is developing decision support and permitting tools.
An executive summary and three sets of biosecurity performance standards (for producers, hauler/transporters and milk processors) were completed by an SMS working group in January. The raw milk risk assessment should be available soon, Hullinger says.
State and regional collaborative SMS projects are also under way. "States set their own FMD preparedness goals, priorities, focus and scope, based on the nature of the dairy industry in a specific area," Hullinger says. "We host quarterly conference calls so that those states and all interested parties can share ideas."
Since 2008, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont have been preparing to sustain New England dairies during any emergency. "We developed a plan to keep milk moving, even during an FMD outbreak, and exercised it in May this year," Horwitz reports. NESAASA initiated these activities with the support of APHIS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia received USDA funding via cooperative agreement to develop a common set of biosecurity procedures to allow milk to move within the five-state area in the event of an FMD outbreak. Project objectives include conducting a milk movement study; drafting a continuity of business plan; developing uniform biosecurity procedures consistent with the National SMS Plan; conducting a tabletop exercise and training; and investigating the feasibility of an electronic application for issuing movement permits.
Objectives shared by New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey include building stakeholder consensus and support for regional SMS planning; conducting an analysis of the raw milk production and movement patterns in the region; developing a regional plan with a focus on evaluating and adopting recommended biosecurity performance standards and operating procedures from the National SMS Plan; and establishing mechanisms for interstate communication, information sharing and movement permitting.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Wisconsin Agro-Security Resource Network have formed SMS-Wisconsin. Initial efforts in America’s Dairyland have focused on identifying existing milk storage and distribution capabilities and documenting existing partnerships, agreements and network dependencies relevant to individual stakeholders’ continuity of operations.
"We’re using direct surveys for milk haulers, processors and producers, along with individualized outreach efforts and emergency response training exercises, to collect data and identify strategies for maintaining regional milk movement and business continuity," says David Zaber, DATCP’s emergency management coordinator. "Together with industry partners, we are also reviewing the National SMS Plan Biosecurity Performance Standards as a first step in the education and implementation process for these standards in Wisconsin."
The Colorado Department of Agriculture collaborated with leaders of the Western Dairy Association and Dairy Farmers of America to conduct a workshop in October 2011 to create awareness and initiate support for a core SMS planning group. "In April this year, we established the Colorado SMS Planning Team, and we’re now developing objectives for the Colorado SMS Plan," says Nick Striegel, Colorado Assistant State Veterinarian.
Coincidentally, as part of its crisis readiness program, Dairy Management Inc. is hosting FMD drills throughout the country in 2012 in collaboration with the International Dairy Foods Association, Milk Processor Education Program, National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council. Hullinger and other SMS partners are supporting these drills.
North Carolina State University’s Benson warns that any farm biosecurity measures that producers already have in place, while a good thing, may not be sufficient during an FMD outbreak. "The SMS Plan will require specific procedures to allow milk movement via permit, and those are still under development," he says.
"You can start preparing for FMD right now by engaging with others in your supply chain and getting involved with SMS activities," Hullinger advises. "SMS organizers welcome and depend upon input from producers."