When Bret Marsh decided to enter public service right out of veterinary college, many of his classmates thought he was throwing his degree away.
"Now they call me and ask, 'Bret, do you have anything for me down at the state office?'" Marsh says.
On Monday, the Indiana state veterinarian and Howard Dunne Memorial lecturer told attendees at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians Annual Meeting in Atlanta that he believed then, and believes today, government can work for the people. Since he entered public service, Marsh has been determined to make "his small slice of government the very best it could be" and has learned through first-hand experience that an effective government, especially surrounding animal health policy, is only possible with an engaged citizenry.
However, the veterinarian recognizes gaps can still occur, even after the government and states' production systems have just worked together through a disease challenge. For example, Indiana was declared pseudorabies-free in 2002, but as the PRV-eradication program wound down, Marsh says state animal health officials began to lose contact with the pork industry, while the industry continued to innovate and grow.
"Therefore, the current level of understanding by SAHOs is frankly poor, and bridges of communication and collaboration must be reestablished to effectively address an FAD threat," Marsh says.
With the consolidation of producers, processors, veterinary services and diagnostics, Marsh says he recognizes it is incumbent in his role as state veterinarian to reach out to these new partners. It will be imperative to work together before a catastrophic event, because the SAHOs will be responsible for establishing quarantines and control areas, issuing permits for movement and providing the primary communication to all stakeholders.
Since reestablishing those relationships with the industry, Marsh has seen significant progress in preparation for an FAD threat and good examples of the synergistic collaborations between industry and government.
Animal disease traceability: This includes premise registration, premise identification number tags and agreements for swine to move in interstate commerce within a production system and has greatly improved the nation's ability to rapidly respond to a disease threat. According to Marsh, Indiana is only the second state in the country to require premises identification and it came about after hearing a briefing from the U.S. Forest Service on how they try to determine where potential forest fire threats are for the next season.
"We went home and did something about premises registration in Indiana, and I know from experiences of dealing with disease events in our state, to know in advance where those operations are located saved valuable time," Marsh says.
Another part of the ADT effort in Indiana was the adoption of electronic methods to prepare certificates of veterinarian inspection. At the end of 2019, 98% of the swine living in Indiana were documented on electronic certificates.
"The adoption of this technology by our veterinarians has been remarkable and the improvement in the ability to rapidly trace animal movements has been greatly advantaged," Marsh says.
To give another example, Indiana swine producers have also implemented electronic 840 tags. Marsh says the USDA will often test the Indiana SAHOs to see how quickly they can find a tag in their system. They will randomly give a number, not associated with a particular animal or a particular piece of paper, electronically or otherwise.
"Because of the collaboration we've had in the veterinary community and our producers, our average last year was less than six minutes," Marsh says. "The national average was over 20 hours."
Diagnostics: There have been significant advancements in the diagnostics for African swine fever, classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease. However, there is also a need for validation of other fluids (such as oral and processing), for expanding the sampling capacity, for certifying samplers and for utilizing accredited veterinarians to collect samples for FAD diagnostic purposes.
Swine Health Information Center: Funded by U.S. pork producers, the mission of SHIC is to protect and enhance the health of the U.S. swine herd through coordinated global disease monitoring, targeted research investments that minimize the impact of future disease threats, and analysis of swine health data. No other commodity has a service like this and its ability to provide rapid answers to complex research topics is essential.
Secure Pork Supply Plan: The foundation of all state preparedness planning for the pork industry begins with SPS and those biosecurity plans developed through SPS may be required by some states to make stop and start movement decisions.
National Swine Disease Council: Formally announced in 2019, the NSDC is comprised of key leaders from the pork industry whose top priority is rapid and effective response to disease events and promoting acceptance of recommended actions from the NSDC throughout the U.S. pork industry.
14-state working group of SAHOs: The SAHOs of the 14 most populous pork-producing states continue to meet with the goal of standardizing, as much as possible, the states' responses to an FAD incident.
"In my view, the U.S. pork industry, with significant input from the veterinary community, must determine its own fate regarding FAD preparedness, and in recent years the industry has made enormous strides toward that end. For too long, state and federal animal health officials, myself included, told livestock and poultry producers, 'the government had a plan for not only indemnity but for depopulation and disposal for an FAD' and therefore left an impression with producers and veterinarians that 'we've got it,'" Marsh says. "But the reality today is the size and complexity of modern pork production requires producers collaborating with veterinarians and state veterinarians to determine the best methods for depopulation and disposal on their premises."
Marsh says the pork industry must establish an effective national forum for the careful deliberation of these critical issues and thereby engage the entire industry in the development of national policy.
"It seems to me we do all of this with one purpose and that one purpose is to protect and preserve the agricultural assets of this nation," Marsh says.