To the average U.S. pork producer, it probably seems like foreign animal diseases only strike other countries.

The news is full of cases. Hog cholera sweeps into the Netherlands in February 1997. Foot-And-Mouth Disease (FMD) hits Taiwan in March 1997.

Granted, it's tough to get too concerned about livestock disease outbreaks thousands of miles away.

But outbreaks of hog cholera in August 1996 in Haiti and in the adjoining island country of the Dominican Republic in August 1997 serve as stern reminders that foreign animal diseases can hit close to home.

And the 1983-1984 outbreak of avian influenza on the East Coast points out that the U.S. is not immune to foreign animal diseases. The four-state campaign saw the destruction of more than 17 million birds, cost $63 million to eradicate, resulted in $7.1 million in lost wages and $490 million in poultry price increases (today's dollars), according to Beth Lautner, DVM, vice president for Science and Technology, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

As a result, the consumers' cost of poultry and eggs increased by about one-third in just six months, she says.

That's just one example of the "significant consumer losses you have with a foreign animal disease," Lautner says in Senate and House agricultural briefings recently. She told the members there is a need for Congress to invest in prevention. Foreign animal diseases are not just bad for producers, they are a food security issue for consumers, too, she reminds.

In response to concerns about U.S. emergency foreign animal disease preparedness, animal agriculture industry groups, state veterinarians and USDA officials formed a Working Group on National Animal Health Emergency Management. Lautner, the NPPC representative in the group, explains federal efforts need to be expanded and resources pooled.

To that end, the working group drafted a model outlining four key function areas for each member of the working group: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

Pooling resources, the groups would develop effective, prevention policies, diagnostic capabilities to quickly detect a foreign animal disease, educate the public on the potential risks and need for investments in prevention. Producers and veterinarians also must develop a heightened awareness of the potential for a foreign animal disease and report any unusual animal health situations, explains Lautner.

FMD Devastates Industry A Taiwanese pork producer reported some unusual symptoms in his pigs but it was too late. In mid-March 1997, he had a sow in a farrowing crate that had fluid-filled, vesicular lesions on the feet and snout. He reported it to the local livestock disease control center.

Up to 100"percent" of the farm's pigs got sick and death rates ran as high as 100"percent" in young stock at times, reports Terry Wilson, DVM, Emergency Programs of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Many of the vesicles on the feet had ruptured leaving raw, hemorrhaging wounds between the claws and on the soles. Vesicles also were common on the teats and on the tongue. Adults very quickly became emaciated because their feet were so sore they were unable to walk to the feeder and waterer, says Wilson.

The diagnosis was confirmed as FMD on March 20, 1997. But, while the laboratory diagnosis was being made, the disease was detected up to 186 miles south of the first known herd. This suggests that FMD was active on the island long before the official confirmation date, says Wilson. Still, there has been no scientific evidence to support this notion.

Part of the problem with diagnosis is the presence of swine vesicular disease (SVD) on Taiwan. Clinical signs mimic those of FMD, meaning early cases of FMD may have been misdiagnosed as SVD, he explains.

The first, known infected herd was located near a port city well known for the smuggling of pigs, especially black-skinned pigs highly valued by many local markets.

A few days after that first infection was reported (March 20), 70 farms were known to be infected. Ten days later, on March 30, there were 1,175 infected farms, notes Wilson. The disease appeared to infect 200-300 farms per day. In all, more than 6,100 farms were affected, with more than four million pigs destroyed. This strain of FMD only affected pigs.

Initial Shortage of Resources Spread of the disease may have increased because of the enormity of the task, suggests Wilson. An initial lack of supplies, equipment and manpower delayed depopulation and disposal (burial) of infected pigs.

"The initial delay in depopulation was a serious problem because the longer an infected hog farm remained intact, the opportunity for spread of the FMD virus through the air, fomites (farm trucks and other vehicles) and animal and people traffic remained a significant threat," says Wilson.

Another key factor is the very high density of hog farms in Taiwan. Eighty-three percent of the hog population is concentrated in the southwest part of the island country, he points out. The hog density there is about 6,500 hogs per square mile.

In comparison, in Sampson County, North Carolina, among the top hog-producing counties in the U.S., the hog density is 1,800 hogs per square mile.

Even without FMD disposal problems, the high density of hogs creates major hog waste and environmental pollution problems, comments Wilson.

Export Market Damaged The FMD outbreak delivered a severe blow to the Taiwan economy. Before the outbreak, hog production was the leading agricultural product in Taiwan worth $2.6 million annually. More than 14 million hogs were slaughtered annually in both 1995 and 1996, explains Wilson.

As with many other countries, Taiwan's hog industry has evolved toward fewer, larger farms. It grew quickly from all small farms in the early 1970's to rank among the top 15 producers of pork and pork products worldwide in 1996. Taiwan sold almost 600,000 tons of pork in '95 and '96, leading to the country's status as third largest exporter of pork products worldwide. Some 40"percent" of production was being exported, worth as exports about $1.5 billion. Most of those exports were shipped to Japan.

The biggest economic loss from the FMD outbreak obviously relates to the loss of the export market, particularly the fresh pork market to Japan, which banned all pork imports from Taiwan the day that FMD was confirmed, says Wilson.

Because 40"percent" of production was geared for export production, a new structure will have to emerge to meet new markets. Market prices will vary, farms and processors will go out of business.

Within a week of the first cases of FMD, hog prices had dropped 60"percent", due to loss of exports and a drop in consumer demand.

Early data levels suggests '97 annual slaughter production of 11.7 million head, down 20"percent" from the 1996 level of 14.6 million head, says USDA's Wilson.

Seven of 10 processors exporting to Japan have downsized. And preliminary estimates project a $6.9 billion (U.S. dollars) impact on swine-related industries in Taiwan, says Wilson.

The eradication program will take several years to complete, stresses Wilson. Taiwanese producers must apply for a permit in order to be able to restock. Conditions include ensuring the producer has disinfected the premises, that the farm has a contract with a veterinarian and that the farm is equipped with wastewater and waste disposal equipment.

Projections based on international animal health regulations strongly suggest that Taiwan will be out of the fresh pork export business to Japan for many years to come, say both Wilson and NPPC's Lautner. Japanese import regulations ban imports of unprocessed pork from an area infected with FMD unless the disease has been eradicated and vaccines have not been used for at least two years.

The U.S., Denmark and Canada have picked up the slack in pork exports to Japan. But so far, the anticipated boon in U.S. pork exports to Asia has not yet materialized, due to the worsening economic crisis in the Asian community and Japan relying more on domestic production for its pork supplies