Kansas State hosts inaugural conference for rural vets

‘Preparing for Disease Challenges’ looked at contingency plans.

An inaugural event in Manhattan, Kan., helped educate rural veterinarians on how to respond and work together in the event of a potential transboundary emergency situation.

Held in early June, the Rural Veterinary Practitioner Conference was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with collaboration from the Beef Cattle Institute, Center of Excellence for Emerging & Zoonotic Animal Diseases, National Agriculture Biosecurity Center (NABC), College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University and the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The conference’s theme was “Preparing for Disease Challenges” and featured a variety of speakers such as Kansas animal health commissioner Justin Smith, who has responsibility for directing the statewide response outbreaks of emerging or transboundary disease. He noted that Kansas is particularly vulnerable, in part, due to the annual shipment of more than 4.5 million head of cattle into the state, not counting cattle shipped purely for purposes of slaughter.

Smith said contingency plans in Kansas are based on the possible outbreak of foot and mouth disease, as it represents a worst-case scenario. He said, “If we can stop that, we can stop anything.”

Smith said the first element of such contingency plans is to stop movement of the animal, which is a key element in controlling the spread of any potential outbreak. He emphasized how veterinarians in Kansas would play key roles in the event of any such outbreak since the state’s full-time manpower is sufficient to cope with the needs in an emergency.

The state response would involve a permitting process, but he added that the state does not want any of its plans to damage the ability of farmers and ranchers to participate in the market.

“We want to make sure we can move product as soon as possible,” Smith said. “The issue is doing it at the speed of commerce.”

Ken Burton, director of project coordination for the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University and NABC program director, noted that with about 320,000 viruses capable of infecting mammals, potential concerns are abundant. He pointed out the nation’s agricultural sector is responsible for about one in 10 jobs, contributing $835 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product.

With that level of activity, Burton said it’s easy to understand why the job of protecting the nation’s animal food supply from potential transboundary and emerging threats is so vital.

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