By Paul Kent
As dairy producers we take food safety very seriously. But how well do consumers understand that?
Thanks to a cross-species public relations team, they’re hearing about it more frequently. And even more important, should a crisis regarding foot and mouth disease (FMD) ever surface, animal agriculture will be prepared with a consistent, reassuring message for consumers.
The Cross-Species FMD Communication Team is a group that represents the beef, dairy and pork industries, in combination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture/APHIS. It works to prepare the industry against this highly contagious and economically devastating disease, which last occurred in the United States in 1929.
It’s a serious issue. Though not found in this country, it is in more than 100 countries in Africa, South America, Asia and parts of Europe. In 2001, the United Kingdom experienced a devastating FMD outbreak that affected about 10,000 farms and resulted in $15 billion in losses. As our economies and industries become more global, the possible introduction of foreign animal diseases like FMD becomes a bigger concern.
FMD, of course, has no relationship to human health, and measures to eliminate the disease are intended only to protect the U.S. animal population from harm. Still, any publicity about the disease impacts demand for meat and dairy products. That’s because many consumers don’t have any notion of what FMD is. In fact, recent research shows that nearly 40 percent of consumers believe FMD is also called BSE, or “Mad Cow Disease.”
A broad-based team
In response to any potential for an outbreak and an ensuing consumer outcry, the Cross-Species FMD Communications Team is developing a unified crisis response plan that will strengthen industry and government preparedness and lessen consumer confusion. It allows the industries to speak with one voice, take advantage of joint communications resources (eliminating duplication in the process), and provide coordinated and consistent information to consumers if FMD were to enter our borders.
The Beef Checkoff Program is helping fund this team, as are Dairy Management Inc., the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Pork Board. The group also is working with APHIS public affairs in its efforts to drive FMD planning and prevention in this country.
In 2008 the Cross-Species Team worked to inform trade media of the challenges associated with an FMD outbreak and to equip them with materials and information, as they will be a critical part of any FMD emergency response effort. The team shared its goals and efforts and conducted “table-top” exercises during both a May meeting with livestock industry reporters in D.C. and the National Association of Farm Broadcasters meeting in November. Media participants were able to get hands-on experience with FMD response and provide feedback to the team on what tools would help them better perform their jobs in the case of an FMD outbreak.
Now the team is working to strengthen its relationships with others on the “front lines” – those who will likely be involved in any response effort. These include veterinarian groups, the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.
The team also is creating important media resources for reassuring consumers and streamlining communication in the event of an outbreak. These include videos and other online materials that will be quickly and easily accessible on the redesigned www.FMDInfo.org Web site, which is scheduled to launch as a single and consistent source of FMD information later this year.
In addition to these cross-species efforts, the Beef Checkoff Program also is funding programs that support state beef council crisis planning and preparedness. For instance, an electronic FMD State Workbook was launched last January. Twenty-six state beef councils were represented in the workbook’s launch, and a follow-up Webinar offered states the chance to learn from the produce industry’s 2007 response to E. coli in spinach. At the Cattle Industry Summer Conference additional tools and tips were provided to states.
All of this for a disease that our country doesn’t even have? No, all of this for a disease that our country hopes to never get. But if FMD – or even just publicity about the issue – does surface in the United States, we’ll be prepared, thanks in part to the Beef Checkoff Program, the dairy checkoff and the actions of forward thinking producers.
The Minnesota Dairy Beef Quality Assurance (DBQA) program includes educational outreach through producer training, brochures, pamphlets and posters distribution at farm shows and dairy conventions as well as through articles published in dairy and farm publications. The benefits of the DBQA program are also publicized through numerous radio interviews.
The Midwest Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Center has been established at the Minnesota Beef Council as a vehicle to reach dairy producers not only in Minnesota but also throughout the Upper Midwest.
All Minnesota BQA and DBQA certification workshops are held in cooperation with local veterinarians, extension educators and others. A valid veterinary client patient relationship (VCPR) is required for certification. By working closely with the University of Minnesota Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, the Minnesota Beef Council has developed an expanded relationship with bovine practitioners throughout Minnesota. Initially the BQA/DBQA training program focused on proper injection site placement, but the curriculum has evolved to meet changing needs and market conditions. Recently, the animal care and handling and responsible use of antibiotics sections of the certification workshop have been expanded.
A special feature of the Minnesota DBQA program is the availability of bilingual training sessions as well as the distribution of Spanish language posters and brochures. Spanish language brochures and posters explaining guidelines for responsible antibiotic use and BQA Best Management Practices are available through the Minnesota Beef Council. For more information on Minnesota’s Dairy Beef Quality Assurance program contact Ron Eustice or Conrad Kvamme at (952) 854-6980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cattlemen’s Beef Board member Paul Kent operates a 480-acre dairy, where he milks 60 cows and raises corn, oats and alfalfa. He markets his milk as a member of Land O’Lakes and is a member of Federated Co-op for his agricultural inputs. He currently represents Land O’Lakes on the steering committee of the Minnesota Dairy Leaders Roundtable and National Dairy Board. He also serves as chair of the Dairy Committee for the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives and co-chair of Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives/Minnesota Association of Cooperatives (WFC/MAC) Two-State Dairy Committee.