PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE – The Commonwealth’s efforts to protect the state’s food supply through animal health and biosecurity initiatives was the focus of a joint meeting of the House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees Wednesday during Penn State’s annual Ag Progress Days.
“Invasive species and animal diseases are significant threats facing all facets of our agriculture industry,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint), chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “We must work together at all levels to combat these dangers and protect our food supply, the livelihood of our farmers and the state’s overall economy.”
A major focus of the meeting was the growing threat of African swine fever (ASF). Though the disease has been in existence for decades, recent outbreaks of the disease in Europe, Russia and China – where an estimated 50% of the country’s swine population has died – is raising concern about further spread of the disease around the world.
According to Kevin Brightbill, DVM, state veterinarian and director of the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), ASF is like no other disease and is caused by a highly resistant virus that can survive for a year or more in certain conditions. “This virus, unfortunately, would result in 100% mortality in any herd it came into,” he said.
Brightbill noted any outbreak in the United States could have an estimated $8 billion impact directly on swine farmers and a $20 billion impact overall when considering related industries. In Pennsylvania, the swine industry accounts for about $775 million in economic impact, with an estimated 3,100 swine operations employing 11,200 people.
Brightbill and others testifying at the meeting – including Agriculture Secretary Russell C. Redding; Dr. Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University; and Ernest Hovingh, DVM, Ph.D., of the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences with Penn State University – each noted the importance of investing in prevention efforts but also agreed “prevention is not 100%” and that protocols must be in place to identify and manage any disease outbreaks.
To that end, Roush noted Penn State is working with PDA in planning a Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Symposium early next spring to discuss preparedness for ASF and other threats with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and others.
The state’s ASF task force also plans to hold several meetings to discuss its prevention and management plans, which are expected to be completed soon.
Whether dealing with ASF or other threats such as avian influenza, officials say farmers across the state need to comply with a variety of protocols to keep their farms clean and free of disease. While many farm operations prioritize 100% adherence to such policies, others may not be as vigilant, and that can lead to serious problems for the entire industry.
Recognizing the importance of animal health and biosecurity, lawmakers prioritized the issue in this year’s state budget, creating a new Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account to help ensure the Commonwealth can respond quickly to agricultural disasters, including using animal or plant health officials to contain an outbreak or threat, or providing an immediate response to a foodborne illness.
They also included in the budget a new $2 million appropriation for the Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission, $1 million for livestock and consumer health protection, and continued support for the Penn State Extension program, which plays a valuable role in educating farmers about protocols and practices to keep their farms safe.
Representative Martin T. Causer
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia A. Hippler