Livestock producers say preparing for disease threat a matter of national security

Soybean grower Shane Greving and pork producer Kevin Peterson attend a farm bill roundtable in Grand Island with Senators Pat Robers and Deb Fischer (NTV News)

Farmers fear a threat to national and economic security. Now as the details in the next Farm Bill get hammered out, ranchers and hog farmers say the country needs to prepare for a disease outbreak.

It's been nearly a century since an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this country, but incidents elsewhere have livestock producers on edge.

Kevin Peterson of Osceola said, “The borders would close, export markets would shut down completely. Billions and billions of dollars would be lost overnight, but the quicker we could get things under control and back to normal is what we're looking for here.”

Peterson recently made his case before Senator Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Ag Committee, asking for help in the Farm Bill.

“It's a $2.5 billion request. Getting a bank, a vaccine bank, let me just say we need to do that,” Roberts said recently.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, a veterinarian by training, agrees the threat is real.

“It would be an economic catastrophe for the ag economy generally across this country,” Perdue said, a few weeks ago in Nebraska.

Perdue says the live vaccine can't be made in this country, however researchers are trying to produce another version, while trying to limit exposure.

“First is surveillance and making sure we're good at the borders on product coming in, then diagnostics of identifying any threats, and obviously a vaccine bank is part of it,” Perdue said.

The House version of the Farm Bill includes $150 million a year in funding, and the ag secretary expects the industry to step up.

“I'm a skin in the game kind of guy. I have to tell you, I think the beef and the pork industry ought to step up through checkoff or something and help share in the cost overall,” Perdue said.

Foot and mouth disease, also known as FMD, can be passed from species to species. Livestock producers say they don't ask for much in the Farm Bill, and they see this as money well spent.

“The level investment, I think the return on it if you were able to prevent export markets from shutting down is well worth the cost,” said Kevin Peterson.

More than 100 farm groups support the FMD vaccine bank, and Friday, they got a show of support, as language was included in the Senate Farm Bill to create one.

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