Dear Dairy Today:
As a dairyman and a veterinarian, I read Jim’s editorial “Dairy’s Go-It-Alone Animal ID”
with interest. Of even greater interest, and profound concern, were the responses from our brethren in the beef industry.
Both the editorial and the two posted responses used Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) as their example. An excellent choice, as we know of no other disease that could compare to it, for its potential to devastate our animal agriculture. FMD is incredibly contagious and unquestionably shuts down exports whenever it crops up.
The two responses were from individuals involved in beef production. They both felt the key to preventing FMD in the US is better border security. What they didn’t clarify, and what I cannot conceive, is how do we protect our border against something the size of a test tube? FMD virus is common in several countries that would love to do us harm: North Korea, Iran etc. Terrorists would not need to drive a semi-load of cattle or sheep across the border; a test tube in carry-on would do the job.
Even if it were possible to spend enough billions of dollars to give us sufficient border security, and it’s not, why would we want to leave ourselves defenseless on this side? To the French, the Maginot Line seemed like a great idea. As a result, they neglected their internal defenses. When the line was breached, they were ripe for the taking. Sure, let’s have border security, but don’t stop there. There is no single “best defense” with such a disease.
The point was made in the comments that animals can move from coast to coast in 48 hours so there is no defense possible. Actually, the mobility issue is a strong argument for RFID. Sure, animals move around, but the majority stay put most of the time. If we can rapidly track who has been where, accurately, we can gain invaluable days in controlling an outbreak. Years ago, we did have FMD in this country and we managed to eliminate it with great effort and expense. In those days, agriculture was far less mobile than it is today.
Many/most of us in both the dairy and beef industries spend enormous energy communicating the story of the miracle of modern agriculture to consumers. I passionately do so myself. Are we then to take a position that modern, mobile agriculture is somehow more susceptible to foreign disease outbreaks, but producers were not willing to take rational, protective measures? I don’t want to try to make that argument.
One further point was made suggesting we are making a grave mistake by moving the National Animal Disease Lab from Plum Island to Kansas. Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s kind of hard for us on the outside to tell if we are better off with a modern facility inland or a more antiquated but isolated facility. However, I can’t for the life of me see how this means that we don’t need to strengthen our industry’s own defenses in either case.
This whole issue between the dairy and beef industries on RFID is analogous to the beef quality differences between our two related industries. I cringe to read about the role the dairy industry plays in beef residues. There is no excuse for it. We in the dairy industry need to clean ourselves up. The shoe is on the other foot, however, where animal IDs are concerned. If we mess up on something like FMD disease, we are not just in for a bad year or two. Instead, we will need to find a way to explain to our next generation how we managed to screw up the world’s finest agricultural production system right before we handed it to them.
Don Niles, DVM