Articles: Press Release
Texas Prepares for Emergency Animal Disaster
Texas Animal Health Commission
Austin, Texas 78711
FAX (512) 719-0719
Linda Logan, DVM, PhD
For info, contact Carla Everett,
information officer, at 1-800-550-8242, ext. 710,
With 254 counties and more than 36 million head of livestock and wildlife
at risk, Texas animal health officials cannot afford to wait until a
foreign animal disease strikes to plan for disaster. For nearly four
years, the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the state's livestock
regulatory agency, and the Texas staff of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Veterinary Services (USDA-APHIS-VS) have prepared to respond
to an animal disease or pest emergency, address bioterrorist events
involving livestock, or respond during a natural or man-made calamity,
including a flood or hurricane.
Each member of the joint state and federal first-strike force, called the
Texas Emergency Response Team (TERT), has advance duty assignments, to
lessen confusion when disaster strikes, says Dr. Linda Logan, Texas' state
veterinarian and head of the TAHC. Furthermore, nearly all of the state's
21 regulatory veterinarians are foreign animal disease diagnosticians,
trained to recognize dangerous animal diseases, and properly collect and
ship samples for laboratory diagnosis, she said.
In years past, said Dr. Logan, the USDA had sufficient funding to develop
and maintain first-response teams, which were called READEOs, or Regional
Emergency Animal Disease Eradication Organizations. Because of funding and
staffing cuts, the USDA today operates only two READEOs, and states have to
be able to respond immediately, Dr. Logan pointed out.
"The 216 TAHC staff and the Texas USDA alone could not sustain eradication
efforts for a long-term or widespread animal disease outbreak, so we also
joined forces with Texas' Department of Emergency Management, where we can
draw on services, technical expertise, equipment and manpower statewide,"
said Dr. Logan. "On March 29, 2001, Governor Rick Perry, recognizing the
importance of the Texas livestock industry to the state's economy,
appointed the TAHC as a full-fledged member of the 32-seat State Emergency
Governor Perry then established, by a letter dated April 5th, the Foreign
Animal Disease Working Group, chaired by Dr. Logan. The objective is to
manage an animal disease emergency in the most efficient manner possible.
More than 30 state agencies are members of this group, which is working
closely with the Division of Emergency Management, Texas Department of
Public Safety. Among the members are: the Texas Veterinary Medical
Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL), the Texas Department of Highways, Texas A&M
University, and the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Logan said the TAHC also has organized a Stakeholder Advisory Group
that includes all the major livestock industry organizations in Texas. This
group will provide input and to be a part of the planning process needed to
manage an animal health emergency. The Foreign Animal Disease Working
Group and Stakeholder Advisory Group are are working to complete the Texas
plan to manage animal health emergencies. The infrastructure developed as
part of this state plan will be tested in late June in a simulated animal
"With the industry's support, we can succeed. Without it, all our best
efforts could fail," commented Dr. Logan. She said the 12
governor-appointed members on the TAHC commission also represent facets of
the livestock industry, including cattle feeding, exotic livestock and
fowl, equine, veterinarians and public members.
For several years, TAHC field staff across the state also have developed
valuable contacts with local leaders, including county judges, local
disaster agencies, agriculture teachers, county agents and private
veterinary practitioners through the TRACE--or Texas Rural Awareness,
Compliance and Education effort. With increased threat of foot-and-mouth
disease (FMD), field staff revisited community bellwethers to provide
disease information and instructions on how to report suspect cases.
Dr. Logan pointed out that livestock producers may avoid reporting cases,
for fear of crying "wolf." Diagnosis can also be confused with vesicular
stomatitis, VS, a viral disease that, during the past 10 years, has
resulted in sporadic outbreaks in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. Unlike
FMD, however, VS can affect horses.e. In sheep, blisters and erosions also
can be caused by bluetongue, or contagious ecthyma, better known as "sore
"If a producer sees an animal with erosions or blisters around the mouth,
in the mouth, excessive slobbering, lameness or foot erosions, we want them
to immediately contact their local veterinarian, the Texas USDA-APHIS-VS,
or the TAHC," said Dr. Logan. "We have a 24-hour hotline, and one of our
foreign animal disease diagnosticians is always available to take calls.
We'll dispatch a diagnostician to the premise to collect samples and assess
To promote livestock health awareness, TAHC staff are encouraged to
actively seek speaking engagements for youth associations, producer
groups, and Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions' Clubs. The TAHC also distributes
numerous news releases, information kits and brochures to keep producers
and the public informed not only about regulations, but also disaster
preparedness, said Dr. Logan.
Because it's not enough to just plan for disaster, Dr. Logan said five TAHC
veterinarians have had month-long stints in Great Britain, as part of the
USDA's international assistance to the foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease
outbreak. "Seeing field cases of FMD and working on-site in an eradication
effort is the most valuable training for our foreign animal disease
diagnosticians," she said.
This spring, Dr. Logan also attended a reunion of people who battled FMD
in Mexico in the late l940s and early l950s. "These folks have a wealth of
practical experience they can share," said Dr. Logan. "These men and
women are heroes, having spent several years eradicating the outbreak so
near to us."
With a common border stretching 1,237 miles, Texas continues to maintain
communication and share livestock health information with Mexico's
livestock producers and veterinarians. Dr. Alejandro Perera, formerly a
USDA veterinarian in Mexico, is the TAHC binational liaison, and works
closely with the other border states: New Mexico, California and Arizona.
In November 2000, Texas participated in the Tripartite Exercise, involving
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The exercise was designed to test plans,
policies and procedures that would guide emergency response efforts to a
multi-site outbreak of FMD in North America. Hidalgo County, in South
Texas, was the site of a simulated foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. This
was the first time in the world that field staff were deployed in a a
"real-time" exercise of eight days' duration.
Although the scenario began in mid-October, for purposes of the exercise,
it was not reported to livestock health officials until early November. In
the simulated storyline, a South Texas swine producer on October 15
retrieved food scraps for his animals from a foreign ship docked in
Brownsville. Unwittingly, the producer had collected scraps from food that
originated in an FMD-affected country. According to the scenario, after
cooking the wastefood, the swine owner poured it back into the unwashed
transport barrels to carry it to the animals' troughs.
Within a few days, the producer's swine exhibited signs of illness and
several litters of piglets had died. The owner finally contacted the TAHC
on November 1, but by then, he had sold several pigs from the premise, and
more than 1,200 susceptible animals had moved through a nearby livestock
market. These animals were exposed to the disease when the virus became
"What began as a one-site foreign animal disease investigation in the South
Texas county of Hidalgo literally 'blew up,' within two days, as we
received reports of sick animals next door in Cameron County and as far
away as Dallas County in North Texas," said Dr. Logan. "Furthermore, the
storyline included our need to 'catch' a truck that had been contaminated
with the virus. The driver had criss-crossed the country from Harlingen to
Canada and back, and from Missouri to the Rockies, potentially spreading
disease far and wide."
"This exercise gave us a 'homegrown' demonstration about how fast
foot-and-mouth disease can get out of hand. Within 24 hours after the
disease was passed through the market, exposed animals were sent to more
than 30 ranches and feedlots in four states," she said.
In just Hidalgo County, the estimated cost to stamp out the disease would
be more than $50 million, she pointed out. "We're using this knowledge to
reinforce the need for producers to report animal illnesses or death losses
to private practitioners or regulatory agencies," she said.
"Furthermore, after seeing that this exercise mirrored several of the
actual outbreaks worldwide in the past 18 months, the Texas legislature
has worked with us to ban the waste-food feeding of meat or meat products
to swine," said Dr. Logan.
The law is effective September 1, but penalties will not be exacted until
December 1. The law will affect 610 TAHC-permitted wastefood feeders in
Texas. Currently, Texas USDA animal health technicians make herd health
checks on the wastefood feeders at monthly intervals and make temperature
checks of the devices used to cook the wastefood to kill parasites,
bacteria and viruses.
As of September 1, the permitted wastefood feeders will be allowed to feed
only "unrestricted garbage," which includes vegetables and fruit, dairy or
baked goods. Additionally, it will be against state law for restaurants,
schools or other establishments to provide wastefood meat or meat products
for swine feeding. The TAHC still will permit wastefood feeders, and
inspections by USDA and TAHC field staff will continue for disease
surveillance, noted Dr. Logan.
In late June, Texas will step up its preparedness with an FMD exercise in
College Station that will involve the state's emergency management system.
Staffing up is one thing; maintaining a major eradication effort for 190
days or longer will tax all entities, reports Dr. Logan.
"The exercise will give us an opportunity to review the organizational
structure and develop greater cooperation between agencies. We'll also
have an opportunity to discuss issues like biosecurity, decontaminating,
humane depopulation issues and other animal-related topics that may be
foreign to other members of the state emergency structure. We also want to
address the issues that will be associated with how to pay indemnity
"We'll be tapping the expertise of agencies, such as law enforcement,
including county sheriff's departments and the Department of Public Safety
troopers, on how to enforce quarantines and movement restriction. We'll
also be learning from community services agencies that aid with stress and
mental anguish, and other agencies that provide radio and phone
communications and ground support--like construction equipment for moving
dead animals and digging trenches for burning carcasses."
"Will we be ready if--or when--a disaster occurs? That's a questions that
keeps me awake nights," lamented Dr. Logan. "No one is ever fully ready,
as there will always be surprises. But, with the state emergency
management system, we've got a lot of experienced folks who have weathered
tornadoes, fires, hurricanes and other catastrophes. The livestock
industry wants to be involved and has demonstrated their concern and
willingness to be a part of the planning process. Our staff is intent on
preparedness. I only hope this preparation won't be needed."
Five committees have been formed to consider and evaluate selected issues
regarding foreign animal disease mitigation, preparedness, response and
issues, as well as on-going operations of the Texas Emergency Response Team.
These committees are:
Impact Assessment Committee
This committee will handle economic, funding and legal issues.
Security and Containment Committee
This group will prepare for all facets of the disease eradication
operations, as well as handle on-going operational issues.
This committee will address the many health and safety concerns
related to disease containment and eradication.
Community Impact Committee
This group will assess and define the potential short- and long-term
impacts of a foreign animal disease emergency on Texans.
Public Information Committee
Because communications and providing rumor control is so crucial, this
committee will consider all facets of providing and responding to
the media, public, and producers.