Message to new Homeland Defense Office: Don't forget U.S. agriculture

Nation's livestock 'extremely vulnerable,' writes AVMA President Brandt
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livestockAVMA President James H. Brandt wrote Tom Ridge, chief of the newly created Office of Homeland Defense, expressing the Association's support for the former Pennsylvania governor in his new position, while also reminding him about the importance of protecting U.S. agriculture from foreign diseases, naturally or intentionally introduced.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led bombing campaign of Afghanistan, the fear of a biological attack on the United States has nearly reached fever pitch.

In the letter, dated Oct. 11, Dr. Brandt, a retired Florida practitioner, writes that agriculture's social and economic importance to the United States makes it a potential terrorist target. "It is crucial that agriculture be recognized at the highest level as a vital component of the U.S. economy and national security, and as such is an integral part of homeland defense," Dr. Brandt wrote.

The AVMA Governmental Relations Division is seeking endorsements from several U.S. senators for the letter.

Dr. Brandt informs Ridge that America's agriculture sector is an integral part of the economy, accounting for 17 percent of employment and 13 percent of gross domestic product. It also contributes $50 to $60 billion annually in exports. Major metropolitan areas have food reserves sufficient for no more than five days. The food supply is dependent on uninterrupted transportation and energy.

The nation's livestock populations are "extremely vulnerable" to foreign diseases, however. Because they are free from most dangerous diseases, U.S. herds and flocks are highly susceptible to new diseases. Most foreign infectious disease agents could be easily attained and introduced to the U.S. livestock population with little effort. Many livestock production units have minimal security, Dr. Brandt wrote, and perpetrators can introduce an infectious agent with little risk to themselves.

"The protection of the health of this national resource is the responsibility of owners and managers, the veterinary profession, and numerous state and federal agencies," Dr. Brandt wrote. "The AVMA also understands that coordination of efforts of state and national governmental agencies is crucial for the protection of the nation's livestock populations.

"We are ready to work with you in protecting American agriculture and in assuring safe and wholesome food for the American people."