The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is taking the threat of bio-terrorism and bio-security issues seriously. The Cooperative Extension Service has set up a Web site addressing the subject and recently sponsored a training session for the state's county agents, said Tom Troxel, head of Arkansas Extension's animal science section.
Troxel is also head of a committee to plan Arkansas Extension's response to bio threats.
“Last year, we introduced the subject of bio-terrorism and bio-security to county agents and showed them the tremendous impact of what could happen if certain diseases hit the state's livestock or poultry industries. This year's training centered around preventive measures farmers can take to reduce the risk of bio-security threats.”
Bio-security can refer to protecting farms from terrorist threats, “but it can also mean doing the right things on the farm to prevent the transmission of naturally occurring animal diseases from farm to farm,” said Troxel.
Exotic Newcastle disease, for example, has spread east from California and is now in Texas. The naturally-occurring disease has the potential to devastate Arkansas' $1.7 billion broiler industry if it gains a foothold.
Other diseases could wreck the state's beef, dairy and aquaculture industries.
Troxel said the outbreak of mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom was a costly nightmare for the country's beef and dairy industries. More recently, mad cow disease has turned up in a cow in Canada. “The United Kingdom's problem showed us just how quickly and how devastating a contagious disease can be to agriculture. We've not had foot-and-mouth disease in this country in many years, but it's in the world and can spread here.”
The state of Arkansas, through the Livestock and Poultry Commission, has developed an emergency animal disease plan. Troxel said the plan lays out what the state would do if a serious disease outbreak occurred.
State officials briefed county agents on the plan and Extension's role in an emergency. Extension engineer Dennis Gardisser, an authority on agricultural aircraft, talked about aerial threats. Agents learned about Extension's bio-security plan for farms, which Troxel said, “goes through steps and guidelines for what producers can do to implement bio-security measures to reduce their risk of disease transport from farm to farm.”
Agents were introduced to a new Extension disaster handbook, which guides their responses during weather-related emergencies. The book addresses bio-terrorism and bio-security issues.
Meanwhile, a Web site has been created to help agents, producers and the general public better understand the subject. The site has useful information in the form of short news articles, question and answer articles and links to many government Web sites. The site has been updated to include information about SARS.
To go to the site, go to www.uaex.edu, then click on Agriculture, Farm and Home Bio-security.
“What we're trying to do is improve the educational level of producers and the general public,” Troxel said. “We're not trying to scare people, but to increase the knowledge base of our agents so that if these issues come up, they'll be knowledgeable and know what to do to help.”
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.