If you've ever had any doubts that we've become a global society, the events of the past few months should have convinced you. The foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks wreaking havoc in the United Kingdom have been felt in the American heartland.

Livestock-based events, from farm tours to the World Pork Expo, have been cancelled.

The initial FMD outbreak in the U.K. has reasonably been traced back to contaminated meat products that ended up in a swill-feeding pig operation. By late April, the number of cases had grown to more than 1,500. The virus hitchhiked its way through contraband sausage from China.

At least 18 countries have reported FMD cases in the last 12 months, not all related to the U.K. outbreak.

When you add hog cholera and African swine fever to the list of growing biosecurity concerns, you can see why regulators are uneasy.

The uneasiness is justified. It is increasingly difficult to keep tabs on the world's population as people move about with relative freedom. Many — probably most — are oblivious to the animal health risks they can potentially carry with them.

Consider this — some news reports estimate 200,000 people pass through U.S. customs daily.

That's scary in itself. But, what scares me even more is a recent USA Today report (April 2, 2001) covering the 2000 census, which states, “…the nation now has as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants — twice as many as officials thought.”

That means roughly one out of every 28 people on U.S. soil is here illegally. Want to bet most of them aren't the least bit concerned about the threat FMD or hog cholera poses to the U.S. livestock industry?

Recent census reports also illustrate greater ethnic diversification. That's not bad or unusual. Most of us need only to trace three or four generations back to find ancestors who migrated to America. It's part of what makes this country great. But this growing diversification coupled with more mobility means more traveling between countries. For all practical purposes, no real borders exist — only checkpoints to record who's coming and going.

It's this mobility, in part, that makes regulators nervous.

Are concerns unfounded? Not according to a world-traveling friend who recently described the U.S. customs checkpoints as “a joke.” Returning from Malaysia and Thailand in late March, he and two traveling companions filed their immigration forms with U.S. customs agents indicating they had visited farms during their trip. The threesome took it upon themselves to request that their shoes be disinfected. The request was met with blank stares, then repeated and repeated before they were ushered to a back room where a brush and the disinfectant were found.

Three weeks later, returning from Korea and entering through another major airport, he again noted he had been on a farm only to have customs agents pull him out of line, X-ray his luggage and send him on his way. (Korea had FMD outbreaks about a year ago, but none recently.)

“I cleared customs three times in the last 40 days — nobody did anything,” he states flatly. “They were waving people through by the thousands.”

That's scary. Obviously, the agents manning customs' checkpoints do not understand, or care, about the dire consequences FMD poses.

My friend believes that if FMD breaks in the U.S., it will occur at a petting zoo or some fairly open livestock operation where precautionary steps are less vigilant.

U.S. pork producers have a solid track record of staving off diseases — like pseudorabies, Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) and swine dysentery — with stringent biosecurity. Most foreign hog operations are equally as stringent.

Those who protect their industries from this dreaded disease will capture greater export market shares. No one wants to benefit from the misfortune of others, of course. But the opportunity exists, and we must do what we can to protect our strong reputation for safety.

We've given FMD top billing in our 2001 State of the Industry Report, and we will continue to keep you posted in future issues and on our Web site, www.nationalhogfarmer.com.

This annual report also contains more details about the repositioning of the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board, an exclusive interview with Waterkeeper President Robert Kennedy Jr. about lawsuits against pork producers, plus information on the pressure major fast food restaurants are feeling to develop animal handling and welfare guidelines for their suppliers.

The state of the pork industry has a wide array of issues going into the summer of 2001. Hopefully, our annual report will shed some light on the events that will reformulate the industry to meet the needs of our international buyers, as well as a growing, more ethnically diverse, domestic consumer.