Economics and Politics of Foot and Mouth Disease
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is the first disease for which the World
Organization for Animal Health (OIE) established an “official list of
free countries and zones.” FMD
is extremely contagious, and countries that do not have the disease, or
that have eradicated it, have strong economic incentives to maintain
their disease-fee status. Countries in which FMD is endemic
continue to work to control outbreaks and minimize production
The significant expense of controlling FMD has resulted in a highly
politicized disease in many countries, with, and without the virus.
For an updated list of the FMD status of over sixty participating countries, visit the OIE website.
There have been nine outbreaks in the United States since
1870. The most devastating of these occurred in 1914.
The outbreak, which originated in Michigan, gained the proportions of
an epizootic with contamination of the stockyards of Chicago.
Over 170,000 cattle, sheep, and swine became infected, and eradication
came at the cost of $4.5 million USD. The last outbreak of FMD in the
United States was in 1929.
Aggressive control measures are implemented in the U.S. to prevent FMD
from gaining a foot-hold and decreasing the value of the
industry. Livestock production is the largest segment of American
agriculture, with a national herd size of about 100 million cattle, 60 million pigs, and 7
million sheep. Annual U.S. dairy sales are about 70
billion dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits
importation of live cloven-hoofed animals and many animal products from
FMD-affected countries. This is a policy practiced by most
FMD-free countries, including Canada.
Recent outbreaks of FMD in Europe pose a threat to American
agriculture, but also an opportunity. The biggest importers of
American beef and pork are Canada, Korea, Japan, and Mexico.
An FMD outbreak in Europe or Argentina could increase sales of
animals to America’s most significant importers. However,
widespread herd depopulation in Europe could decrease U.S.
sales of animal feed and soy meal to European countries.
There was a brief scare concerning potentially infected pigs in 2007,
but laboratory results ruled out FMD. See American media coverage of
Canada is recognized as “FMD-free where vaccination is not practiced.”
The last FMD outbreak occurred in Saskatchewan in 1952, as a result of
illegally imported contaminated meat. The severity of the outbreak was
in part due to its late diagnoses. Originally the cases were
diagnosed as vesicular stomatitis, and the diagnosis of FMD was not
made until three months after the initial infection. The
total livestock that were destroyed included 1,301 cattle, 294 swine, 97 sheep, 2,372
fowl, 15, 828 eggs, and one goat. Total economic losses were estimated
at 722 million dollars (CD) plus the loss of a year of trade in livestock
and livestock products. The economic toll of an FMD outbreak can be
staggering, and is a culmination of expensive control measures, farmer
compensation, and lost trade and tourism.
For more information about the outbreak, see R.F. Sellers and S.M. Daggupaty’s:
“The epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in Saskatchewan, Canada”
The most recent outbreak of FMD in the UK was in 2001, 34
years after the 1967 outbreak, which resulted in the slaughter of
442,000 animals and cost the country an estimated £370 million.
The 2001 outbreak began with the FMD diagnoses of several hogs at a
slaughtering operation. The hogs were likely infected by
illegally imported meat scraps. The timing of the outbreak, which
surfaced in the wake of the EU’s Mad Cow crisis, was a heavy blow to
the recuperating livestock industry, and there were fears that the
industry would not ever recover.
Fear also circulated in the public, as newspapers published
speculations on public health risks. Many of these reports
focused on two children whose deaths were linked to contaminated milk
in an 1884 issue of the medical journal, The Practitioner.
The Guardian on FMD as a public health concern:
By the time Britain’s 2001 outbreak was resolved, it had cost the
country an estimated £8 billion. It is suggested that the
economic severity of the outbreak could have been reduced by better
management; for example the state was criticized for the amount of time
that passed between the
first outbreak loci, and the time when counter-measures were put
into effect, resulting in spread of the disease which could have
been prevented. The government was also criticized for the
slaughter of disease-free animals, the assertion being that better
mathematical modeling of the epizootic could have prevented the
slaughter of some herds. Eighty percent of the animals
slaughtered during the outbreak did not have FMD, and the risk
of exposure of these herds was the subject of much controversy.
It has also been pointed out that the FMD control policy is itself in
ways responsible for the severe economic losses the disease
associated with. For example, see this article by a UK
The UK managed to avoid a serious outbreak in 2007, when a handful of
FMD cases were confirmed in a localized area in South-East
England. The government Health and Safety Executive concluded
that the virus in this case escaped from a laboratory, probably via
FMD is endemic to pastoral regions of China, however the first report
of FMD made to the World Health Organization (WHO) was not until 2005.
Since then there have been continued reports of FMD in a number of
Chinese provinces. For example, China reported 14 FMD outbreaks
in 2009, and has declared them resolved. It is not always clear
whether reported outbreaks are new or ongoing.
Much ambiguity exists regarding incidences of FMD in China. For
example, there exist provincial orders and regulations for FMD control
in China, which predate China’s first report of FMD to the WHO. Domestic media reports often use the euphemism
“disease number five,” because of the sensitivities surrounding the FMD
issue, and Chinese media indicates numerous outbreaks in China that are
not officially reported.
The Chinese government makes frequent claims that all areas
in which FMD was diagnosed have been disinfected. The
Chinese beef industry has not been significantly impacted by
FMD, possibly because of the quick responses to new outbreaks.
Significantly, none of China’s major trading partners closed their
borders to Chinese livestock in response to the report of FMD in 2005.
China, on the other hand, has closed its borders to some livestock
in an effort to control FMD within its borders.
There have been several recent outbreaks of FMD in Mongolia, the most
recent being confirmed in September, 2010. It was reported that FMD
killed a number of cattle from a family’s herd in Dornod. A report was
submitted to WHO and more than 1,000 domestic animals have been
contained in the quarantine zone.
There is also concern over the
disease spreading to herds of
wild whitetail gazelle. In the 1960s,
FMD killed large numbers
of gazelle on the Eastern Mongolian steppes.
The gazelle may
also act as an efficient means
of disease dispersal.
See Nyamsuren et al.'s article in the Journal of Wildlife Disease:
FMD was diagnosed in the Eastern provinces of Mongolia in the
summer months of 2010, and thousands of animals have been
since this time. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and
has proposed to vaccinate all 7.1 million livestock
Meanwhile, media reports covering FMD in Mongolia
are providing a wide range of conflicting reports on the number of
animals infected, and some articles commenting on recent FMD
outbreaks in Mongolia have incorrectly indicated that the infection
itself is fatal.
responses to the outbreak