Meetings held to plan for foreign animal disease outbreak

RED WING, Minn. — What would you do if a foreign animal disease was reported in your neighborhood? In your county? In a neighboring state?

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the state Department of Agriculture have hosted a series of workshops across the southern third of Minnesota to ask those questions and begin preparing farmers, emergency management directors, public health officials, veterinarians and others who would respond in case the unthinkable were to happen.

The workshops are paid for by grants from the federal Department of Homeland Security, said Michael Starkey, emergency planning director for the MDA.

The meetings began last fall and continued this year.

At a recent meeting in Goodhue County, Eric Hess, vice president of SES, divided participants into small groups, giving them scenarios and asking them to develop response plans.


In one scenario, the governor of Minnesota issued an agriculture movement control order, targeting all livestock moving through the state. Law enforcement officers stopped a gooseneck trailer with 10, 700 pound steers and a pot-load of nursery pigs. They called the county emergency management director to find out what to do with the livestock.

Participants gathered in small groups and shared ideas, creating the framework for the county’s emergency management director to create a workable plan.

Someone suggested keeping the cattle at quarries and another suggested finding private landowners with vacant barns. Access to feed and water was discussed.

Goodhue County Emergency Management Director Diane Richter-Biwer said the workshop was very beneficial.

"I found the whole thing to be a real eye-opener," she said.

The workshop gave Richter-Biwer a good start at putting together what Hess termed an annex, an addition to the county’s emergency management plan dealing specifically with what to do in the case of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

She has more questions and more work to do, but is thankful the workshop was held in Goodhue County.

Starkey said the next step is to secure grant funding in order to conduct drills on the response plans developed by counties following the workshops.


The plans aren't operational, Hess stressed, rather they are management tools.

Early in the meeting, Hess impressed upon participants the importance of having response plans because of the enormous impact of agriculture in


In 2007, Minnesota’s total agricultural sales were $22.9 billion. Twenty percent of all Minnesotans are employed in agriculture. Fifty-three

percent of Minnesota’s land is devoted to agriculture.

And an outbreak of a foreign animal disease wouldn’t just affect agriculture. It will ripple throughout the entire economy, Hess said.

He played a clip of an European innkeeper lamenting the loss of business as a result of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Agriculture and tourism are the No. 1 and No. 2 industries in the state, Hess said.


Minnesota has many vulnerabilities when it comes to a foreign animal disease. There are 85,000 farms in the state and few producers give much thought to a foreign animal disease. The state is also home to interstate highways, food processing plants and retailers. Contamination could occur at any level and spread rampantly, which Europe learned in 2001.

European farmers and leaders learned a lot from that outbreak and were prepared to act when a second outbreak occurred in 2007, Hess said.

Instead of taking three weeks to enforce a ban on livestock movement as it did in 2001, it took three hours.

That’s his goal, that the counties in which he’s held workshops are prepared to respond in hours rather than weeks.

Foot and mouth disease and other foreign diseases are out there.

FMD is endemic in many nations, but it hasn’t been in the United States since 1929 when there was an outbreak in California. Highly pathogenic avian influenza and exotic newcastle disease are other foreign diseases that could cause economic disaster.

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