FMD Economic Threat Real, KSU Economists Say

As work progresses on the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility near Manhattan, KS, Kansas State University research has simulated the economic effect of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

FMD has been called the most infectious disease known to man, even though it does not affect humans.  Cloven-hoofed animals like cattle and hogs are susceptible, and it takes an incredibly small exposure for it to spread.

Left to themselves, many animals infected with FMD recover – sort of.  The loss of weight and suffering endured by the animals ruin them for the economic purposes for which they are bred and kept.

And moving research and testing for this disease to the heart of cattle country from Plum Island off the coast of New York has drawn its share of critics.  They charge that an accidental release of the FMD virus would have devastating effects on the US economy and particularly the US’ ability to export beef and pork.




All state and territorial veterinary offices have a plan in place to contain the disease.  Many of these plans are draconian in the initial stages with threats to the economy almost obvious.

Kansas would halt all traffic in or out of the state along with all buying, selling or movement of livestock.  Only after the dust settles would officials reopen certain avenues of trade as it becomes certain that such activity does not spread the FMD virus.

The disease seems endemic in certain parts of the world, but North America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and many European countries do not have the disease, but the potential is always there.

Research at K-State led by Dustin Pendell, an agricultural economist who specializes in animal health economics, used FMD spread models to examine the economic effect of an outbreak under 15 different emergency vaccination strategies.

If FMD were to begin in the nation’s heartland, and no emergency vaccination program were implemented, the research estimated the loss to producers and consumers could amount to $188 billion.  Additional government losses could hit $11 billion in the effort to depopulate infected herds and controlling livestock movement.




General vaccination for a disease that isn’t present is not cost effective.  Plus, doing so can mask the presence of the disease when the goal is complete eradication, and it’s hard to distinguish between vaccinated animals and infected animals that aren’t showing symptoms yet.

The cost of the loss of exports is hard to quantify since it isn’t known how long and in what countries such trade barriers could continue, but it’s certain the losses would be huge.

Critics also have questioned the efficacy of a vaccination program because of the uncertain availability of a vaccine for a certain strain of FMD.

However, an aggressive post-outbreak vaccination program done in a circle around the point of initial infection can reduce the economic cost of an infection significantly, the KSU study showed.  The research estimated that losses to producers and consumers could be slashed to $56 billion and governmental losses could be dropped to $1.1 billion.




Cash fed cattle markets in the Plains Wednesday were quiet following steady-to-firm trade on Tuesday.  Trades at $138 per cwt were reported in Kansas and Texas, steady with the bulk of last week’s trade.

Light dressed-basis trade was reported in the Corn Belt at $206 to $208.

Wholesale beef prices Wednesday were higher, with the USDA choice cutout value at $220.14 per cwt, up $2.19 on the day, and its select cutout at $212.20, up $1.13.

The choice/select spread widened to $6.88 from $6.88 on Tuesday, and there were 109 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $193.85 per cwt, down $0.14.  This compares with the Oct settlement Wednesday of $193.50, up $0.90.