Sponsored By

Ag must deal with gaps in biodefenseAg must deal with gaps in biodefense

Jacqui Fatka

November 6, 2015

3 Min Read
Ag must deal with gaps in biodefense

SINCE 2001, the U.S. agriculture sector has made great strides in preparing for challenges posed by a natural or intentional introduction of a biological event, but animal agriculture needs to more closely integrate with the public health sector as the nation is still "woefully underprepared" for the next big threat, according to Dr. Tammy Beckham.

Testifying before a House agriculture subcommittee Nov. 3, Beckham, dean of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said as demonstrated recently during the outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in swine herds, highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry flocks and Ebola virus in the public health sector, the approach has been mostly reactive and less proactive when it comes to preparing for the next emerging threat.

Beckham said actions must be taken immediately to address gaps in the current biodefense system.

She pointed to increased movements of people, animals, plants and products globally, which increase the potential for disease threats to emerge. It is estimated that 1 million swine and 400,000 cattle are in transit to the next location in the production system at any given time during any given day.

During the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in the U.S., Beckham said the meaning of the term "One Health" took on new significance, as some of the greatest lessons were learned, and the largest gaps in biodefense were highlighted. The One Health Initiative has the goal of uniting human and veterinary medicine by expanding interdisciplinary collaboration and communication.

Beckham cited estimates that more than 75% of all emerging pathogens are zoonotic and that zoonotic pathogens are twice as likely to be associated with emerging disease as non-zoonotic pathogens. She said since most diseases are zoonotic, it's important to develop effective countermeasures to stamp out diseases in the animal population before they spread to humans.

"All too often, we have been very reactive," she reiterated, but focusing instead on preparedness is going to require that "the human health component see the animal health component as just as important."

Recent statistics indicate that 61% of federal funding for biodefense in fiscal 2014 was allocated to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, while just 1% was allocated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for agricultural biodefense.

Beckham testified that forming a biodefense panel would allow for greater coordination and provide a platform for developing a more cohesive and collaborative national biodefense strategy.

Furthermore, a leader and/or council that could assemble a robust team of federal and industry partners could help lower barriers that hinder the ability to truly implement the One Health Initiative, she added.

These barriers could be overcome with time, collaboration, interdisciplinary programs and budgets to support and incentivize working together to prepare the U.S. for the next emerging disease event.

Overall, Beckham said in order to mitigate damages from animal diseases that harm the nation's food supply, a robust biosurveillance system and early-detection system need to be in place.

Other necessities include investing in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, better coordinating with the public health network, investing in more vaccines and research on the front end, training first responders and working with state and local entities to help the industry better prepare for the unknown threats ahead.

"We're not failing," Beckham said of the progress made on the biodefense front. "We just need a more coordinated approach and more resources to get us there faster."

Volume:87 Issue:43

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Feedstuffs is the news source for animal agriculture

You May Also Like