Situation awareness is the term Dr. Marty Vanier of Kansas State University used at the American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA) Nutrition Symposium in stressing the importance of being aware and alert to emerging diseases and viruses in order to protect U.S. animal agriculture from the unknown.
Why the unknown? As Vanier explained, because “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and that is where the risk lies.
Vanier asked the feed industry to look outside itself and continuously pay attention to what is going on in the areas of animal disease and grain quality on a worldwide basis. “If we aren’t looking for it, we won’t find it.”
In particular, Vanier believes the feed industry needs to be concerned with some of the ingredients it is sourcing from China. Her reasoning was linked to the fact that, in addition to the porcine epidemic disease virus (PEDV), four other swine viruses have surfaced recently in the U.S. that appear to have ties back to China. The viruses got here somehow, and feed may possibly be a transmission source, she said.
On the grain side, Vanier said, the wheat blast pathogen is a good example of why vigilance is needed. An infected seed from Brazil carried through the trade of feed could well result in the entry of the pathogen into the U.S., the effect of which on grain producers and the feed industry would be quite negative.
Today’s grain and grain products move fairly freely around the world and that lack of borders significantly increases risk.
Likewise, if things appear to be too good to be true, they probably are, Vanier said, suggesting the industry must start probing more deeply as to say why a load of grain may be price discounted. In most cases there is a reason for that and while it may seem like a deal, in reality it can be devastating. “Stay alert and understand those things. Then think about what impact those things might have for you and your customers before you act,” she said.
American agriculture is incredibly vulnerable. Access to U.S. farms and ranches is relatively easy, the transport of livestock and grain is generally uncontrolled and a lot of commingling takes place. Highly contagious viruses and diseases from whatever origin have the potential to spread rapidly, and the best line of defense is to keep them from arriving in the first place, said Vanier.