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USDA Filling FMD Vaccine Bank

OMAHA (DTN) -- After attention and lobbying from livestock groups, USDA on Wednesday announced the first major foot-and-mouth vaccine purchase to store in the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank.

USDA is spending $27.1 million with two animal health companies, Biogenesis Bago and Boehringer Ingelheim. In a news release, Boehringer Ingelheim said the company will provide a strategic reserve of frozen vaccine antigen concentrate that the company could quickly convert into a vaccine in the event of an outbreak.

"While we are confident we can keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the country, as we have since 1929, having access to vaccine is an important insurance policy," said Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach. "Vaccines could be an important tool in the event of an incursion of the disease in the U.S, but their use will depend on the circumstances of the incursion and require careful coordination with the affected animal industries."

Leading up to the 2018 farm bill, critics questioned whether taxpayers should spend money on a preventive measure such as a vaccine bank against foot-and-mouth disease. Livestock groups prevailed, arguing the costs are a fraction of the losses agriculture could face if more is not done to ward off zoonotic diseases.

Cattle and swine groups pushed for the vaccine bank to be included in the 2014 farm bill, stressing the risks to the food supply should foot-and-mouth disease, or other infectious disease, hit livestock. USDA formed the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank (NAVVCB). Last September, USDA notified companies that it was looking for information on acquiring and maintaining a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council each issued statements welcoming the funding for a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.

"This is a promising first step forward to begin the work authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill; but, more action is needed to strengthen this newly created vaccine bank," said NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Allison Rivera. "NCBA will continue to work with USDA, Congress, and other stakeholders to secure future funding, making certain that the entire cattle industry is better prepared for a possible outbreak of FMD."

Howard "AV" Roth, a pork producer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin, and president of NPPC, said the announcement reflects years of advocacy by the group to help prepare for foot-and-mouth disease. "While U.S. pork producers and other farmers face significant challenges and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a solution to FMD preparedness is in our grasp," Roth said.

NPPC pointed to a study from Iowa State University that an FMD outbreak would lead to potentially $128 billion in losses over 10 years for the pork and beef sectors, as well as corn and soybean farmers.

While foot-and-mouth disease is not a threat to public health or the food supply, an outbreak would lead to at least a temporary shutdown of export markets. USDA stated a vaccination program would control the spread of infection caused by the virus by reducing the amount of virus shed by animals and controlling the clinical signs of the disease.

"The risk the world faces from disease transmission is more acute today than ever," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Safeguarding American agriculture from the impacts of devastating zoonotic and animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, is an investment well made. The establishment of this vaccine bank will allow the U.S. to more quickly ensure continuity of business should this devastating disease ever impact U.S. livestock producers."

USDA is funding the vaccine bank while also remaining part of the North American Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank that the U.S. shares with Canada and Mexico. USDA stated that a U.S.-only vaccine bank would make a "much larger number of vaccine doses available."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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