WASHINGTON -- A government expert on contagious animal diseases urged retailers to have a strong communications response plan in place in the event of a U.S. outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Ty Vannieuwenhoven, a senior staff veterinarian on the emergency programs staff of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), U.S. Department of Agriculture, told SN how a potential outbreak might affect retailers. He was part of a briefing on foot-and-mouth disease hosted by the American Meat Institute.
"Although an outbreak of a highly contagious animal disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease, might not be a human health problem, public perception might see the occurrence as dangerous," Vannieuwenhoven said. "A communications plan needs to be a huge part of a supermarket's response system for these diseases to help clarify public perception."
Many animal diseases can cause the same public alarm as mad cow or foot-and-mouth. Vannieuwenhoven also included poultry diseases, such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease, along with classical swine fever and African swine fever in the "highly contagious" category.
The expert cited a recent study showing that most Americans don't know the difference between foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease. And given that retailers have increasingly taken on the role of educator, supermarkets may be the most logical point in the distribution chain to intercept consumers with correct, updated public information, he noted.
Since such outbreaks would affect supermarkets due to supply and distribution restrictions, he said it is important for industrywide organizations, such as the American Meat Institute and the Animal Agriculture Coalition, to continue to be involved at the federal and state levels of the planning process by choosing a spokesman and determining coordination efforts.
He noted that the Delmarva Poultry Institute, a poultry industry group representing the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, had created its own response plan. Vannieuwenhoven cited the recent foot-and-mouth crisis in the Europe as a catalyst for "much more intense interest and awareness" in the United States. As a result, a lot of specifics regarding this country's response to an outbreak are under revision.
To that end, new information on foot-and-mouth disease and management strategies are being developed based on the recent experiences in Europe. Those lessons can easily be adapted for domestic use, he noted.
Vannieuwenhoven also addressed the falling number of veterinarians working in the field for APHIS since the mid-'80s. The decreased number of personnel has placed new importance on the use of alternative resources -- other than those at the federal level -- to assist in monitoring, planning and responding, he said.
For example, he noted that virtually every state in the United States now has developed its own response plan.
Plans are also under way, he said, to create a formal, federal response blueprint, which would coordinate the activities of cabinet-level agencies to assist the USDA and individual states' efforts to control an outbreak.
The AMI-sponsored industry and government briefing also addressed various aspects of foot-and-mouth disease, including the global situation, current status in Europe, preventing an outbreak stateside, surveillance and diagnostic activities, and current research developments.