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Homeland Security

Statement of Dr. Colleen O'Keefe

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs

"Agroterrorism: The Threat to America's Breadbasket"

November, 19 2003

Illinois recognized the possible threat of the introduction of Foreign Animal Diseases (FAD) as early as the spring of 1998.  The presence of classic swine fever (hog cholera) in the Netherlands, Dominican Republic, BSE in England and Foot and Mouth Disease in Argentina, the ease of world travel, and O'Hare Airport increased the threat of bringing in a FAD either accidentally or intentionally.  The threat of FAD is a serious concern both for the economy of Illinois and the whole United States.

Illinois is home to nearly 2 million cows, over 4 million hogs, 120,000 dairy cattle and 74,000 sheep and goats.  Illinois generates annually nearly $7.5 billion in farm income, with the livestock industry generating $1.4 billion in cash receipts.  The diagnosis of a FAD in Illinois would have drastic repercussions to the economy of the State and the whole United States.  The movement of all animals and exports of animal products would be immediately halted if a disease like foot and mouth were diagnosed.  Consumer confidence would be shaken and meat products that would be available would be prohibitably expensive to buy, even if consumers would.  The diagnosis of a foot and mouth disease or classic swine fever would be more devastating to our economy than the diagnosis of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, Mad Cow Disease) was to Canada or Great Britain's economy. 

If either accidentally or through an act of agroterrorism, a FAD is introduced into Illinois it is critical that the disease be quickly diagnosed, the area quarantined and the disease eradicated.  The economic devastation of FAD increases as the time to diagnosis and containment lengthens.  The emergency plans we have formulated are attempting to provide the most rapid response to provide containment of any outbreak.

History: In the spring of 1998 the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), in cooperation with USDA veterinary services put together an emergency plan that mirrored that of the Federal Regional Emergency Animal Disease Eradication Organization (READEO).  It was immediately apparent that the IDOA would not have the manpower, equipment and supplies necessary in the event of a FAD outbreak, however by joining with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency it would allow the IDOA access to all of the other State agency resources. During 1999 several tabletop exercises and workshops were conducted to test the plan and answer questions.  In July 2000 our State and Federal field staff were given "Incident Command Training" to promote all groups to work together in a coordinated effort.  This is the command structure used by all federal emergency organizations and gives everyone a common language.

In 2001 the Emergency Animal Disease/Animals in Disasters Annex was added to the Illinois State Emergency Operations Plan allowing the use of and which spells out how State resources from other agencies would be used in an emergency response.  A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Agriculture to provide assistance and expertise in the event of an emergency animal disease outbreak.  In 2002 Illinois passed legislation allowing the State to sign on to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) facilitating state-to-state emergency assistance. 

Since the State of Illinois has several nuclear power plants, the IDOA in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Nuclear safety has in place plans to deal with radioactive contamination of livestock and crops.  

In the spring of 2003, the IDOA held 5 regional meetings for private veterinarians.  These meetings were held to raise awareness of the threat of FAD and bioterrorism and make veterinarians aware that they could be the first responders in a disease outbreak.  In October of 2003 a 2-day meeting was held for veterinarians to begin training as first responders.  This meeting provided a refresher course on FAD introduced them to emergency response procedures and asked them to indicate the level of cooperation the IDOA could expect of them if their assistance was needed.  Our goal was to recruit one veterinarian for each of our 102 counties to assist the local emergency management teams. 

The State laboratories have been upgraded for the potential bio-terrorism threat.  A BL-3 laboratory has been built in Galesburg and each laboratory has an alkaline digester to deal with potential pathogens.

Future Plans: Presently the IDOA is working on putting together a model emergency animal disease/animals in disaster plan that can be annexed to county emergency response plans.  The Department is also putting together regional and county veterinary response teams to mobilize in the event of animal disease emergencies or animals involved in natural disasters.

A major concern in any FAD is the need for disposal of animals.  This is an area that must be preplanned.  The IDOA is in the process of setting up a statewide plan for massive animal disposal.

Since the major economic threat is to the animal sector of agriculture our limited staff and funds have been primarily used to develop the animal emergency plan.  The next area of planning will have to be for the fertilizer, feed and seed security.

Regional Plan: In evaluating animal disease risk it was found that this is a regional, not a single state, issue.  Illinois alone monthly exports approximately 217,800 head of swine, 2,800 head of cattle and 600 sheep and goats that are all susceptible species.  Illinois imports 127,500 head of swine, 14,300 cattle and 330 sheep and goats monthly.  It is important to remember that there is a large number of animals in transit since it is cheaper to transport animals to feed than feed to animals.  With this in mind the Central States Animal Emergency Coordinating Council was formed through an effort by Illinois in January of 2002.  This council was composed of representatives from the Departments of Agriculture and Emergency Management in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the USDA.  North Carolina was included because of the large number of swine (approximately 20,000 head per day) exported from North Carolina to the Midwest.  After meetings, work groups and tabletop exercises the following findings were made in December of 2002:

  1. The Regional Plan will not and must not usurp state authority or responsibility to address a foreign animal disease. The overall goal of the Regional Plan is to enhance communication and work together toward a common system of tracking and monitoring animal movements. Council members believe enhanced communication among the states will assist in effectively managing a disease outbreak.

  2. There is a serious discrepancy among states in terms of computer technology, mapping expertise, and animal tracking. Additionally, states with the appropriate mapping technology and data collection are the exception, rather than the rule. Accordingly, numerous states don't have the hardware or software capacity to utilize the technology some states possess. USDA must immediately implement an electronic system to track livestock movements and monitor disease outbreaks. At the very least USDA should identify states, such as members of the Council, to conduct a pilot project of an electronic tracking system that could be duplicated nationwide.

  3. Post-outbreak livestock movement protocol will be critical in any animal emergency, not only in terms of preventing the spread of disease but in facilitating normal marketing of healthy livestock in order to minimize the economic damage that will result. The Council realizes and acknowledges that political pressure will be to immediately halt all livestock movement. The Council urges USDA to immediately address this issue and bring together all interested parties to develop a workable solution that protects the economic viability of America's livestock operations.

  4. State officials must be made aware of the government's indemnity plan before an emergency arises. The Council encourages USDA to immediately define and publish indemnity rates for livestock in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

  5. Disposal of animals will be subject to environmental and political pressure. States must resolve, with the appropriate authorities, how disposal of livestock will occur well in advance of an outbreak. The Council would also recommend that states commit, in advance, the funding for digesters, air curtain burners or other disposal mechanisms.

  6. State and Federal Departments of Agriculture and animal health officials will never have enough people to fully address a foreign animal disease. It will take multiple agencies, private organizations and associations in a real event. Training and testing (of agency, industry, associations, organizations, and producers) must become an integral part of our everyday lives.

The following recommendations were made:

1)      Expanding the scope of the Council. In addition to the Council the Multi-State Partnership in Resource Sharing has also been formed.  This council is still in the formative phase.

2)      Develop an electronic tracking system. The USDA has started this with the implementation of the farm and animal ID systems starting January 2004.

3)      Seek additional funding. Additional funding will be needed to maintain the Council or the Partnership, the relationships that have been developed, and the response to a foreign animal disease/animal emergency. 

4)    Address technology, personnel and communication needs. Many states have fundamental needs in these areas, including: a) GPS mapping of livestock and all the hardware and software required, b) training for veterinarians, lab staff, livestock producers and others to create a corps of first responders at the local level, and c) a group of identified epidemiologists who are familiar with the response plan and able to leap into action on a moment's notice.

5)      Expand relationships with USDA/APHIS personnel. Federal/state cooperation could be enhanced through greater federal participation in regional exercises.

6)      Coordinate a network of state labs to maintain routine diagnoses in extraordinary circumstances.  Approximately one-third of the animal disease diagnostic labs in the US are represented in the Council.  The Council urges USDA to expand the number of labs eligible to perform FAD testing to maintain routine diagnoses in extraordinary circumstances.

Needs: Staffing is also an issue.  The IDOA is putting together a comprehensive emergency plan, coordinating with the IEMA and other states with less than 3 individuals, none of which are employed full time on emergency management issues.  Illinois is not alone in attempting to become well prepared with limited staffing.

It is critical for our State laboratories (animal disease and agricultural products) to have the most current equipment and highly trained staff.  The state laboratory system through the years while still providing top notch diagnostic work on animal diseases has now evolved to a much larger role in protecting human health, the food chain, the environment and provide surveillance for FAD.  To continue to meet these mandates it is critical that our laboratories have the best available equipment.  With constantly changing and improving technology, our laboratory equipment is rapidly becoming outdated and sometimes fails to provide the level of testing necessary to protect the public interests.  Our laboratories need to:

  • Serve as a component of a nationwide early warning system for the detection of bioterrorist events through early detection of outbreaks of foreign animal diseases.

  • Detect natural or intentional contamination of our food supplies

  • Provide diagnostic services for the detection of animal disease outbreaks involving agents that impact human health (anthrax, Brucellosis, tuberculosis)

  • Provide early recognition and participate in surveillance programs for newly emergent diseases of animals and human beings (West Nile, monkeypox)

  • Recognize economically important diseases [Foot and Mouth, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), classic swine fever (hog cholera)].   It is imperative that state laboratories be allowed to test for FAD's and not just Plum Island as it now stands.  In the face of an outbreak, the federal laboratory system will rapidly be overwhelmed, causing a serious delay in diagnosis and containment.

  • Provide monitoring of the food and water supplies against potential pathogens and toxins involved in food and water born diseases, both naturally and intentionally contaminating food and water [antibiotics, insecticides, heavy metals (lead, arsenic, mercury)].

To meet these requirements the laboratories need modern equipment and experienced personnel trained to run standardized, rapid, diagnostic tests.  To protect our personnel we need to upgrade our facilities to meet biocontainment requirements.

Funding for GPS technology, infield computers and mapping soft ware is critical to having the ability to mount a rapid response.  It is imperative that states be able to accurately locate animals at risk, slaughter facilities, and warehouses and identify sensitive environmental concerns in the case of an outbreak.  The States will need well-trained professionals at all levels of government and private veterinary practioners to serve as first responders.  To provide a high level of competence, continued training and exercises are necessary. 

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