Animal and public health professionals are aware of the brewing of a “perfect storm” — a human, animal and emerging disease convergence. Fueling the perfect storm are the threats of terrorism using animal diseases, increasing resource use and animal production, warmer conditions, unhealthy water supplies, urban growth, booming transportation networks and colliding ecosystems.

To minimize the effect of a perfect storm, the pilot project County Animal Security and Health Network (CASHN) has been expanded from 12 to 21 Arkansas counties as a first line of defense against terrorism through zoonotic diseases (those transmissible from animals to humans) and agro-terrorism, says Henry English, director of the Small Farm Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Ark.

The National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD) has identified non-commercial livestock and property owners as a vital but often difficult audience to reach in the protection of U.S. agriculture and food infrastructure. Non-commercial producers are hobby, backyard and small-enterprise animal owners.

Veterinarians believe that the 2002 Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) outbreak, which critically impacted California’s poultry industry, flourished for nearly six months in small and medium backyard flocks before diagnosis and detection. Eventually, 3.5 million birds were destroyed and 34 countries suspended the importation of poultry and poultry products from affected states.

During the fall of 2007 and spring of 2008, the FAZD Center and Cooperative Extension programs in Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas conducted a “proof-of-concept” project creating a functioning emergency education and communication network called CASHN. It is designed to reach individual small producers with vital animal disease information to help them detect and report a foreign or zoonotic disease.

In case of an outbreak, the state veterinarian sends a disease alert to the point of contact person (in Arkansas, the contact is English) who then alerts his small farm agents. The agents alert feed retailers, who, in turn, alert producers. The rationale is that feed retailers are the one group who small producers visit and talk to on a regular basis.

The CASHN Pilot Project was tested in six states involving 43 counties and 108 feed retailers. It worked. It took an average of 2.1 days (49.8 hours) for a message to reach feed retailers from state veterinarians.

“CASHN could potentially reach 795 non-commercial livestock and poultry owners through local feed retailers within one week of receiving the state veterinarian’s message,” said English.

Plans are being considered to make the CASHN Pilot Project a national program. To check if you live in a CASHN county in Arkansas, contact your county Extension associate: Arlanda Jacobs (870) 575-2966 for Phillips, Lee, Arkansas and Monroe counties; Carolyn Prowell (870) 489-5585 for St. Francis, Crittenden, Woodruff, Cross and Mississippi counties; Janet Breckenridge (870) 489-5585 for Chicot, Drew, Desha and Ashley counties; Kandi Williams (870) 575-7237 for Little River, Miller, Sevier, Howard and Lafayette counties; and Stephan Walker (870) 575-7237 for Lonoke, Jefferson and Lincoln counties.