Valuing Foot and mouth disease surveillance

An upcoming AIC report deals with a crucial "if" question involving public policy and regulation: What if a highly contagious livestock disease-foot-and-mouth disease, in this case-suddenly appeared in California?

More specifically, how much economic loss could be avoided by quick and effective control measures? What are the possibilities for quick and effective control? The study involves an intensive study and provides sobering results.

The chances of such a disaster are unknown, but may be increasing because of more intensive international travel and trade. The AIC publication describes seven possible scenarios that might follow an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Tulare County, where dairy cows and other livestock are concentrated and therefore more vulnerable to the disease. It also reviews current planned strategies in case of an outbreak, identifying potential problems and suggesting actions.

The 150-page publication is titled The Potential Impact of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in California. The author is Javier M. Ekboir, formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis. (Now with CIMMYT in Mexico City.) Ekboir's project was in cooperation with the UC School of Veterinary Medicine, and was supported by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) presents no danger to humans, and in fact most adult livestock can recover from the disease. But because the virus can spread so rapidly, both livestock and livestock products from a FMD-infected region or country are embargoed throughout much of the world. In the past, outbreaks in FMD-free zones have been commonly met with "stamping-out" programs-which means slaughtering all exposed as well as all infected animals, cleaning and disinfecting all livestock premises, and then waiting to be declared FMD-free again. That is the official policy in California, in case of an outbreak here.

The total cost of an outbreak would be the sum of eradication costs (including compensation to livestock growers), production losses and, even more significant, loss of prime national and international markets for months or years. In the various scenarios, those costs in California are projected from about $2.5 billion to about $4.5 billion-and that's assuming the outbreak is contained in the South Valley (Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties). Total U.S. trade losses would be substantially greater.

A crucial finding of the model scenarios is that, in an area crowded with livestock like Tulare County, a day or two delay in diagnosing the disease, establishing a quarantine zone, and starting the stamping-out program could make the difference between a contained outbreak and a statewide economic disaster. "The opportunity for decisive intervention lasts only one week," the report emphasizes.

But for various reasons, including lack of awareness of the threat and lack of immediately available resources in case of an emergency, "it is highly likely that implementation of this stamping-out policy would face enormous problems which would seriously compromise its chances of success," the report says. In the concluding chapter, those problems are analyzed and recommended actions listed.

The foot-and-mouth disease study preceded, but will contribute to, a more comprehensive extensive AIC project on exotic pest and disease policy in California. The large AIC project is considering a wide variety of pests and diseases and involves scientists, economists and others from several UC campuses, CDFA, USDA and the private sector. A conference and major report are planned for 1999.

The Potential Impact of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in California will be available later this summer from AIC.