In 2005 and then again in 2006, I had the opportunity to attend the FBI Symposium on Agroterrorism. Speaker after speaker identified foot-and-mouth disease as the single biggest potential threat.

So, if I sometimes seem a little paranoid about FMD, that is part of the reason why.

When U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns visited our office last March 20 — to visit with editors representing a number of different agricultural commodities — I thought long and hard about what I would ask him. Ultimately, I decided to ask about the lack of mandatory animal ID in this country and whether it made us more vulnerable to a possible FMD outbreak.

Johanns made it clear that he is in favor of voluntary rather than mandatory animal ID. He cited resistance to animal ID by some livestock groups and also expressed his belief that the marketplace should dictate these events, not the federal government.

“Mandatory ID,” he said, “is really Washington saying ‘it’s our way or the highway.’” 

Regarding FMD, Johanns said he felt progress was being made in terms of preparedness.

But that doesn’t cut it, in my opinion. If only about a quarter of this nation’s livestock premises are registered in an ID system — with a majority of those in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Idaho — then we aren’t really prepared to handle a FMD outbreak. We can say we are making progress, but so is the guy who is bicycling from Los Angeles to New York City — he is getting there, but not very fast. 

For years, I have looked for visual proof that lack of mandatory animal ID makes us more vulnerable to a FMD catastrophe. Finally, I think I have it. Please see the illustration and explanation at right.