Foot-and-mouth disease could cost Kansas nearly a billion dollars

Published 29 November 2007

Researchers say that the losses for the Kansas economy from a large-scale foot-and-mouth outbreak could reach a billion dollars

Agricultural economists at Kansas State University say that the impact on Kansas’ economy were there a large-scale foot-and-mouth outbreak in a region could reach $945 million. “If such an outbreak were to occur, livestock and meat commerce, trade, and movement would be halted,” said Ted Schroeder, a Kansas State professor of agricultural economics. “That represents a very, very expensive endeavor.” Schroeder is coauthor of a paper which predicts a devastating economic impact should foot-and-mouth disease come to Kansas. The paper, based on the dissertation of K-State agricultural economics doctoral graduate Dustin Pendell, now on the faculty at Colorado State University, was also coauthored by John Leatherman, professor of agricultural economics at K-State. The group’s paper was recently published in a special October edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious viral disease that does not affect humans, but can have devastating effects on cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and deer. The United States has not had case of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929. The team of K-State researchers analyzed a fourteen-county region in southwest Kansas which has a high concentration of large cattle feeding operations, as well as other livestock enterprises and beef processing plants. The researchers found that the greater the number of animals infected in an operation, the longer an outbreak would last and the more it would likely spread — all directly correlating to the level of economic ruin. The researchers examined different scenarios and considered the impact and small, medium, and large feedlot operators. Depending on the scenario, the losses for the state of Kansas could climb to $945 million. “Contagious foreign animal diseases like foot-and-mouth are of considerable alarm,” Schroeder said, citing the impact of globalization, extensive international travel, outbreaks in other countries and heightened concerns about bioterrorism. “Kansas produces about 1.5 million calves, markets 5.5 million head of fed cattle, and slaughters 7.5 million head of cattle annually. The large commercial cattle feedlot and beef packing industries together bring more than 100,000 head of cattle per week on average into the state for feeding or processing,” Schroeder said. “Such large volumes of livestock movement provide avenues for contagious animal disease to spread.”

Fred Cholick, dean of K-State’s College of Agriculture, said that this research illustrates exactly why the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, also known as NBAF, is needed in Kansas. “The impact of agriculture in Kansas is huge,” Cholick said. “Kansas and Manhattan are literally at the heart of the industry the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility is charged with protecting. Surveillance and the development of knowledge are key today because food safety is a global issue. Disease knows no borders. This reality is why NBAF is so important.” Manhattan is one of five finalists in the competition to house the $451 million federal animal health lab where researchers will study animal disease and develop countermeasures, such as vaccines. The new lab will replace the aging facility on Plum Island, New York.