SITUATION awareness is the term Dr. Marty Vanier of Kansas State University used at the American Feed Industry Assn. Nutrition Symposium to stress 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? Because, as Vanier explained, "we don't know what we don't know," and that is where the risk lies.
Vanier urged the feed industry to look outside its ranks 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," she noted.
In particular, Vanier believes the feed industry needs to be concerned with some of the ingredients it is sourcing from China due to the fact that, in addition to porcine epidemic disease virus, four other swine viruses have surfaced recently in the U.S. that appear to have ties to China. The viruses got here somehow, and feed may be a possible 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 pathogen's entry into the U.S., and the effect 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.
In addition, if things appear to be too good to be true, they probably are, Vanier said, suggesting that the industry must start probing more deeply to find out why a load of grain is priced at a discount. In most cases, there is a reason for that, and while it may seem like a deal, in reality, it can have devastating consequences.
"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. It is relatively easy to access U.S. farms and ranches, the transport of livestock and grain is generally uncontrolled and a lot of commingling takes place. Highly contagious viruses and diseases from various origins have the potential to spread rapidly, and the best line of defense is to keep them from arriving in the first place, Vanier said.