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Master of Agribusiness

Reaction to and Potential Economic Impact of a Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak in Kansas

Debbie Clough, Topeka, Kans., Defended her thesis, “Reaction to and Potential Economic Impact of a Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak in Kansas,” on Friday, May 25, 2007. Clough is a Retirement Plan Administrator for Security Benefit Group in Topeka, Kans. She graduated from Kansas State University in August with a Master’s in Agribusiness (MAB).

Foreign animal diseases, especially Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), have the potential to cause significant economic losses to the U.S. livestock sector and consumers. Although FMD has not been found in the U.S. since 1929, the threat of intentional introduction by agroterrorists heightens the need for the State of Kansas and the U.S. to have measures in place to reduce the possibility of introduction and control the spread if introduced. After researching the history of FMD outbreaks in the U.S. and a more recent outbreak in the United Kingdom, Clough’s thesis examined the protocols in place and the potential cost of dealing with such an event.

“Debbie collected cattle movement data from a typical sale barn location in Kansas, and also visited with livestock haulers to verify how quickly, and how far a disease like FMD can spread if it gets into the traditional livestock distribution channels. She also calculated projections of the direct economic impact that would be felt by the agricultural economy if such an event were to occur, either by accident or intentionally. Given the current environment of rapid animal and human movement across large geographic regions, and the current security threats to our country, it is important for industry participants and others to be aware of the devastating potential of such an occurrence, and to take at least modest steps to prevent such an occurrence and/or be better prepared should such an outbreak occur,” said Dr. Rodney Jones,  Agricultural Economics professor and Clough’s thesis advisor.

Based on her research, Clough had three main findings to limit the possibility and the economic affect of a FMD infection. First, government organizations, agencies and the Department of Homeland Security need to share information and better work together to prevent agroterrorism activities from occurring. Screening at borders and airports to prevent unintentional infection is also important.

She found that education is also an important factor in preventing and preparing for a possible FMD outbreak. The U.S. public needs to be better informed about their food supply and veterinarians should be further educated on foreign animal diseases like FMD. Education campaigns can be valuable to inform individuals on methods of unintentional exposure and introduction of FMD.

Clough’s third step would be to develop a cattle identification and tracking system. A tracking system would be able to reach or predict disease onset and spread throughout a herd. It would also facilitate tracking in the event of an outbreak. The faster the original source can be identified, the quicker the outbreak can be contained.

“Just looking at the initial numbers to remove infected animals from herds could be in the billions of dollars. That does not take into account secondary affects of costs to meat producers, retailers, and consumers, or the loss of export dollars,” Clough said. “Those kinds of numbers make it important to know how to react if it happens.”