S.D. Governor Reveals 'War' Preparations Should foot and mouth disease strike, William Janklow said he is ready with "the most aggressive plan

S.D. Governor Reveals 'War' Preparations
Should foot and mouth disease strike, William Janklow said he is ready with "the most aggressive plan

May 18, 2001 Omaha World-Herald by Bill Hord
With hundreds of concerned livestock producers looking on, South Dakota Gov. William Janklow on Thursday unveiled what he called "the most aggressive plan on the planet" to protect his state against foot and mouth disease.

It was an almost surreal look at life under marshal law - people restricted to their farms, no vehicles in contaminated areas, mobilization of the National Guard and law enforcement, forced closings of livestock auctions and packing plants, and wholesale killing and burial of livestock.

"If it comes to war," Janklow said, "you have to be prepared to fight to win."

Janklow's sobering and dramatic contingency plan upstaged a forum of speakers who came to the Sioux Falls Convention Center to educate Midlands state officials and livestock producers about the horrors of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease.

More than 620 people, mostly livestock producers, came from six states to hear reports from officials about the animal diseases that have spread in Great Britain and other European countries but have so far been kept out of the United States.

Foot and mouth disease got center stage because it is a virus that literally spreads in the wind and on clothing and would be economically devastating to the livestock industry. BSE, on the other hand, poses a health danger to humans but is spread through digestion and is more easily contained. BSE has never been found in U.S. cattle, and there has not been a case of foot and mouth disease found in the United States since 1929.

The South Dakota contingency plan differs from those being prepared in Nebraska and Iowa in that, in South Dakota, the emergency measures are already predetermined in the event of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The Nebraska plan is being developed by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency as part of the State Emergency Operations Plan and is nearing completion, said Denis Blank, an administrator for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

"Our plan is being put together so you can make decisions as situations develop," Blank said.

The same is true of the Iowa contingency plan, according to Brent Halling, deputy secretary of agriculture for Iowa. "In our plan, it would depend on the governor to declare an emergency to trigger events," Halling said.

Not so with the Janklow plan.

"This is as serious as war," Janklow said.

Producers listened quietly as the governor painted a bleak picture for South Dakota should foot and mouth disease come to the state, saying that the economic devastation would be worse than what England is experiencing with its outbreak that started three months ago.

"South Dakota is bigger than England," Janklow said. In that country, 2.6 million head of livestock on 7,000 farms have been killed, burned and buried in the last three months. Farmers have been compensated a total of $ 850 million for their losses but may not be able to put their farms back into operation for six months or a year. Infected farms must be decontaminated and go through a waiting period before animals can be raised on them again.

Although some areas of England afflicted by foot and mouth disease are now under control, several new cases have been reported in recent days, delaying even longer the return to normalcy.

"Foot and mouth disease is as communicable as any known virus for any species. In one week in April, 8,000 head of cattle came into South Dakota from 18 states and Canada," Janklow said. "You can see how fast and insidiously this could spread."

To make his point, Janklow cited the example of what would be done to dispose of cattle from South Dakota's biggest feedlot. "It would take a trench five miles long, 12 feet wide and 12 feet deep," he said. "Imagine the magnitude of the construction."

Part of Janklow's contingency plan would kick in if a foot and mouth disease case was discovered in North America, the only continent besides Australia that does not currently have an infection.

If there were a North American case, sale barns would be closed, and no out-of-state livestock would be allowed at packing plants.

If the disease entered a neighboring state, South Dakota would set up an emergency operations center, activate law enforcement agencies and the National Guard, close packing plants and enlist public radio and television for disease-related announcements and programs.

"Every state would be hitting the panic button like we would be," Janklow said.

Further steps would be taken if there were suspected or confirmed cases in South Dakota, such as prohibiting people from moving around in infected counties, killing of livestock, extermination of wildlife that might be exposed and courier delivery of infected tissue samples to federal laboratories.

Janklow said the emergency actions would be triggered by events so that the response would be immediate. "We would stand down as quickly as possible," he said, continuing his wartime analogy.

Both Nebraska and Iowa officials said that plans in those states would allow for similar actions but would leave it to the discretion of governors to declare emergencies and put events into action.

"The end result would probably be very similar," said Nebraska State Veterinarian Larry Williams, who attended Thursday's conference with Blank.

Although England is still reporting new cases, efforts in that country to control the disease have reduced the threat of the disease's spread to the United States, said Alfonso Torres, deputy administrator of the U.S. Veterinary Services.

"Right now, the risk is down significantly from what it was in the initial stages of the disease," Torres said. But the foot and mouth disease threat is ongoing, he said. Thirty-four countries have reported new outbreaks in the last 18 months.

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