We need better traceability in livestock industry


By Rebecca Miller, Farm and Dairy

November 22, 2019


Almost 100 years ago, most of California went on lock-down. The rest of the country, and even foreign powers, held its collective breath.


Neighboring states were on edge. Embargoes were levied on Californian produce. Canada banned meat and hay from the whole western part of the country. Armed conflict flared up at the California-Arizona border as Arizona attempted to barricade and seal itself off from its western neighbor. Hundreds of cars stormed border crossings. Public panic spiked.


Sounds like a made-for-TV movie, right? One article on it, published in the California History journal, and written by Kendrick Clements, reads like a novel. It wasn’t.


FMD outbreak


All of those things came about because of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious virus that can wipe out cloven-hoofed animals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, foot-and-mouth disease is not in North America. But that wasn’t always the case.


The California epidemic in 1924 led to the wholesale slaughter of about 59,000 cattle, 21,000 swine, 28,000 sheep and 1,300 goats.


In a lesser known, but no less significant move, more than 22,000 deer were rounded up in the Sierra Nevadas and slaughtered after the disease was detected in a herd. The Sierra Nevadas remained quarantined for a year after that.


Take a minute to digest that. They quarantined a mountain range.




The repercussions of that outbreak impacted agriculture, commerce, quality of life, public perception and the economy. The response from public officials was fascinating.


It wasn’t the first time outbreaks had occurred: New England in 1902, New York and Pennsylvania in 1908 and Michigan and Illinois in 1914-15. In response, the USDA created a list of experienced veterinarians in each region and put together guidelines: strict quarantines and slaughter of infected herds.


Every state agreed to sign on to the requirements. They also agreed to take on equal responsibility for the cost of destroying and burying animals, hiring guards and compensating livestock owners for losses. So, in actuality, the measures were taken rather quickly.


What authorities didn’t foresee was the level of panic and fear they would have to juggle, Clements notes. In fact, he asserts that it’s likely the reason the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace refused to allow the study of the disease at the time.


“Since USDA scientists certainly would have understood that a scientific study could be conducted safely, we must conclude that other considerations lay behind Wallace’s adamant stand,” Clements writes. “Irrational panic was, after all, the aspect of the 1924 crisis for which the government was least prepared and which it was least successful in controlling.”


The most recent example we have now is the 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom. Around 2,000 animals had the disease, but because of its virulence, 6 million were culled. I still remember the images of piles of dead stock, the looks of despair on farmers’ faces.


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