Ready for a Crisis? Don’t wait to safeguard your dairy

November 9, 2008 06:00 PM

Determine the animal health risks on your dairy and develop ways to shore up on-farm food security.
It could be foot-and-mouth disease, bovine tuberculosis or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

An animal disease outbreak at your dairy or locally could result in a stop-movement order and losses of millions of dollars. And it could hit when you least expect it.

That's why preparing your dairy now to respond to an animal health emergency is essential, says Darlene Konkle, a veterinarian with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's Division of Animal Health.

"Every day approximately 500 million pounds of raw milk moves across the country,” Konkle says. "An outbreak of a foreign animal disease would stop the intrastate and interstate movement of animal products and result in major economic impacts across the country. International trade would be halted.”

Moreover, the impact of an outbreak could extend to depopulation of herds, leading to a loss of future milk supply and an erosion of consumer confidence, says Matt Mathison, vice president of technical services for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

The authority to manage an animal disease outbreak, in general, lies with state and federal agencies. But dairy producers and processors must participate in the planning process to ensure an effective response, Konkle says.

A key element of any response plan is the immediate stop-movement of raw milk from the farm to the processing plant. Having a business continuity plan in place at the farm level, processing plant and across the state's industry will play a vital role in getting the milk flowing again as quickly as possible.

On-farm food defense includes controlling and protecting raw milk, animals, the farm environment and the transportation of products, ingredients and supplies. To stop the spread of disease, Konkle advises:
  • Avoid exposure to wild animals.
  • Restrict traffic on your dairy. Know who's coming and going, whether it's your feed truck, vet or other visitors.
  • Disinfect clothing, hands, equipment and vehicles.
  • Buy cows from reputable dealers and get certification.
  • Isolate new animals.
  • Separate animals by age, species and source.
  • Keep records. "This could help most,” she says.

Mathison urges dairy producers to implement emergency-response programs that span their operations. Keep logs for both routine and non-routine visitors. Secure access to milking and milk storage areas. Keep emergency phone numbers handy and visible. Do more than place your preparedness plans in a binder. "You need to tell your employees about it too,” he says.

Understand the steps that state and federal agencies will take in an animal health emergency. Get involved in local preparedness planning and exercises. The bottom line: Develop a response plan.

"If you don't,” Mathison explains, "there's no way you can be prepared.”

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