To counter both of these possibilities, the U.S. needs to have investigative teams similar to
those used by the National Transportation Safety Board teams composed of persons who can be
objective and have no ongoing relationship with the USDA or state agriculture agencies, who are
immediately available for dispatch to the outbreak location and who have the same jurisdictional
authority as the NTSB vis a vis the FBI, National Guard, local or state police, etc.
A Hypothetical Case
On a family-run tobacco farm in southeast Texas, 20 miles from the Gulf coast, a cow gets
sick. Within several days three more cows become ill. All of them are drooling. At that point, the
farmer calls a neighbor to come take a look. The neighbor shakes his head and tells his friend to call
Doc Jenkins, who is not a veterinarian but has long been the community's substitute shoes horses,
assists in difficult calvings, and so forth. Later that day, Doc Jenkins stops by. Taking note of sores
in the cows' mouths and in their feet, he says it looks like vesicular stomatitis. "Nothing to be done.
No cure. I'll have to call the district offices and report this. Regulations you know. They'll send
somebody down to take a look. But I'd lay off slaughter. It's a serious disease, but one or two of
them may be better in a week or so." Jenkins calls the district vet office before leaving to visit
another farm in the area.
The next day, the district vet shows up, takes scrapings from sores on the cows, and says he'll
get back to the farmer in a day or so. "In the meantime I don't want anyone or anything coming or
going from here." The next day, the neighbor calls to say his cows are sick, too. The district vet
calls to say that the first test was negative, and more tests will be done. Ten days have now passed
since the first sick cow. The farmer's entire herd is sick, with most down and not getting up, their
hooves raw and disfigured. Checking with his neighbor, he learns that other farms in the area have
the same problem but none other than his own has been inspected. "No need for all of us to call.
Once we know what you have, we'll know what we have," says his neighbor.
On the 12th day, listening to the morning farm report, he hears that a large livestock producer
to the north has been hit hard by an outbreak and that officials fear it may be foot and mouth disease.
If so, first time in US since 1929. No animals are to be moved off farms until further notice. Road
blocks are up. Two days later, a state disease control team arrives with the bad news. It is foot and
mouth disease. All cattle and swine are to be destroyed. The farmer will be compensated for the
loss. By sundown there is a graveyard back of the barn. The acrid smell of disinfectant hangs in
The evening news is that a six-county area is under quarantine after a lab in Iowa confirmed
foot and mouth. Tens of large ranches and scores of small farms involved. The Congressman from
the district is on television, saying it's believed to be the work of bio-terrorists from the other side
of the world. But politics is always local, and the neighbor is on the phone saying "I'll get you for
this. You ignorant wet back!" The state's agriculture department is dropping leaflets by helicopter,
so farmers all over the state will know what to look for.
The next morning another team arrives at the farm and starts asking questions. After covering
what we already know of the tale, the farmer is asked "When was the last time you got any new
stock?" He replies "Over a year ago. Except for two goats we got a few weeks back but didn't
keep." To other questions come more answers: they were a gift; his cousin found them near the
causeway to the beach at Galveston. "Knew they didn't belong to anybody around there. Fancy
houses. No farms. My cousin had no place to keep them. Gave them to me. Birthday present, he
said. I don't like goats that much. And these two walked funny. We slaughtered them when we got
home. Meat's in the freezer."
Later that week, the farmer gets a call. "We found the virus in the meat. So, it was probably
the goats that did it. Lucky for us you froze the meat. Too bad you didn't know what to look for.
Sore feet on a goat can be a sign."
What to look for. . .
A recent study entitled "Potential Impact of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in California," done by
Javier Eckboir while he was a post-doctorate fellow at the University of California at Davis, is an
overview of the disease and a detailed analysis of a hypothetical outbreak in Tulare County,
California. In a published comment to the study, Hans Riemann, Professor Emeritus at UC School
of Veterinary Medicine, writes:
"The creation of huge data bases and large committees for early detection or tracing
of FMD is only one approach, and not necessarily the most important. Farmers and
their employees are the ones who must be relied upon for reporting of infected herds.
Tracing exposed herds depends on local conditions, and the detective aceumen of the
responsible veterinarians(s). Misdiagnosis is likely, and farmers should be
encouraged to report not only suspect lesions. The first things that happens when an
animal gets FMD is that it stops eating and producing milk. This is something the
dairy operator will invariably observe, and should be encouraged to report if two or
more animals are affected.
"During the Pennsylvania avian influenza epidemic in 1983, it was observed
retrospectively that the affected flocks showed a significant drop in feed and water
consumption two weeks before peak mortality. Early warning systems based on
abnormal changes in consumption or production parameters may be applicable to
other diseases such as Newcastle disease and FMD. There will be false alarms, but
even these will provide opportunity to educate farmers and improve their operations."
What to look for. . .
The FAS work in promoting global disease surveillance has, since 1996, been focused primarily
on establishing an operational program in a sub-Saharan Africa country that will focus on the
interface between wild animals and livestock in remote farming communities. The foundation of
this bottom-up approach to disease surveillance is training others in what to look for and providing
the tools necessary to do the looking.
Over the past three years there have been repeated reminders by provincial and district
veterinary officers that the small farmers and pastoralists of Africa know their animals to the point
they can recite the full family tree and personal history of each head of cattle, and that what they
don't know is how to recognize the earliest signs of certain diseases and how to get help when they
need it as opposed to getting help when they don't. As one reviews disease outbreaks in the United
States and the threat of more to come from whatever source and in whatever way the thought
occurs that the need for disease recognition training for farmers and the employees of large
production enterprises may be as great here as it is there. Given the differences in the respective
livestock systems and the prevalence of serious disease outbreaks, education may perhaps be even
More and more it has become evident that it will be wise to amend the focus on the
investigative elements of surveillance disease forensics and detective work to include the
"eyewitness" the first person always at the scene of the crime the people who day by day have
the most contact with the potential targets of agro-terrorism and economic sabotage. Teaching these
farmers and facility employees, and rewarding in some way their participation as sentinels, might
make the difference in addressing the threat of agro-terrorism and economic sabotage.