Farm bill must tackle disease

Gary Cooper - Guest Column

Ohio farmers work diligently every day to produce safe, high-quality food for families across the state, and provide the best possible care for our animals. Food and agriculture, the top industry in Ohio, contributes $124 billion to the state’s economy and employs one out of every eight people.

As a second-generation Ohio poultry and pig farmer, I understand that without ensuring the safety and health of our animals, the stability of Ohio’s economy and job security are at risk.

That’s why Ohio livestock and poultry farmers like myself make disease prevention a top priority by employing a number of strict on-farm measures to prevent crippling disease outbreaks from happening, such as the 2015 highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak that swept across the Midwest.

The outbreak carried a combined loss of more than 50 million chickens and turkeys in 15 states, and a total economic impact loss of more than $3.3 billion.

The 2015 HPAI outbreak not only impacted the food supplies that feed our families and others across the U.S., but also numerous states’ economies and the financial and emotional well-beings of those whose jobs were impacted or lost.

Although Ohio’s egg and poultry industry was spared during this outbreak, farmers have still made the prevention of disease on our farms a top priority and have worked tirelessly to prevent outbreaks by further bolstering our comprehensive biosecurity protocols.

Although biosecurity measures vary from farm to farm, common practices include vehicle and machinery disinfectant processes, more extensive employee training programs, ensuring feed and water are not at risk of virus contamination, and limiting contact with domesticated and wild animal species.

While Ohio farmers like myself have taken the steps necessary to protect animals on our farms and the food products we produce,

it is essential that thorough disease prevention plans and protocols are in place to handle the spread of disease should an outbreak occur.

Ohio’s elected officials can protect the farmers they represent from devastating disease outbreaks by supporting a three-tiered proposal for animal disease prevention included in the 2018 Farm Bill.

These provisions will prevent emerging diseases in the livestock and poultry farming communities and will reduce the likelihood of the spread of such diseases.

The first tier calls for the development of a program that will provide proactive, intensive and preventive efforts to detect signs of disease in their earliest stages.

This program, to be called the Animal Pest, Disease and Disaster Prevention and Response Program (APAD), will prepare Ohio livestock and poultry farmers to rapidly respond to and efficiently handle a disease outbreak by working closely with veterinarians and inspectors.

The second tier would support the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which acts as the first line of defense in disease prevention and testing. The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory includes the NAHLN within its laboratory networks.

The last provision will establish a rapidly deployable Animal Vaccine Bank to quickly meet the need for vaccines to prevent the spread of contagious animal diseases.

This tier is critical to the success and effectiveness of this proposal as the current vaccine bank is not equipped to provide vaccines quickly enough to successfully prevent the spread of animal disease.

Each of these programs are critical to identifying, mitigating and preventing the potential catastrophic effects of an animal disease outbreak in our country and state’s food security, export markets and economic stability.

On behalf of all Ohio livestock and poultry farmers, I urge members of our congressional delegation to support the inclusion of these provisions and provide mandatory funding as they consider and secure passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Gary Cooper is the owner of Cooper Farms of Van Wert, Ohio, which grows live turkeys, chickens, egg layers and hogs, and produces a variety of food products for families across the United States. Cooper is also a past president of the National Turkey Federation.

Gary Cooper

Guest Column