The killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has prompted heightened awareness of a possible retaliatory terrorist attack. And, the livestock community is not immune to the threat.  

At last week’s International Symposium on Agroterrorism, hosted by the FBI, some of the speakers mentioned that the U.S. food and agricultural system could become the target of a terrorist attack. For instance, foot and mouth disease could come into the U.S. from another country, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Industry preparedness for a possible foot and mouth outbreak is imperative, says David Pelzer, senior vice president of strategic communications at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program.

Beginning next week, DMI will conduct a series of drills on industry response to a fictional outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United States. The first drill will be May 10-11 in Baltimore, Md., with follow-up drills on Aug. 17-18 in Denver, Colo., and Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Kansas City, Mo.

“DMI is working in concert with dairy producers, co-ops, processors, other livestock industry organizations and representatives of key federal and state government agencies,” Pelzer says. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and FBI are expected to participate.  

The drill next week won’t take place in a rural setting, but rather a hotel. It will be a table-top exercise, Pelzer says, designed to bring the various stakeholders together to discuss the implications of a real-life foot and mouth disease outbreak.

For instance, dairy producers will meet at one table to discuss what implications an outbreak would have on their own farms, as well as other farms in their area, and potentially farms all across the nation. As part of that discussion, they may bring up concerns about government agencies and the way those agencies will handle the situation. Then, they will have the opportunity to express those concerns directly to the government representatives at the meeting.

The point is to think about the possible scenarios, discuss them, and establish relationships between the different stakeholder groups, according to Pelzer.

In the case of a foot and mouth disease outbreak, a lot of people in the dairy industry and the government will be involved, Pelzer says. They will have to communicate with one another about controlling the disease and addressing public concerns.