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Pennsylvania is an animal agriculture state. Animal processing and production is a $34.6 billion industry that supports, directly and indirectly, nearly 140,000 jobs in the commonwealth.

This industry, worth billions to Pennsylvania’s economy, could be taken out in a heartbeat with one animal health pandemic like we’re experiencing today with COVID-19.

Bouncing back from disaster, such as an animal disease outbreak, is only possible if we collaboratively jump into action with a timely response.

Emergency response through an emergency declaration issued by Pennsylvania’s Executive Branch is apolitical for a reason. Inserting politics and debates slows response time, inhibits immediate collaborative coordination of resources, and puts necessary federal support funds out of reach.

Over the past year we have seen the resilience of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry. They’ve mitigated, adapted, and diversified to overcome obstacles during the pandemic and are looking forward to a bright future. But that future won’t be so bright if the very resources the industry relies on in an agricultural emergency are swept away. We need a fighting chance.

Whether it’s High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) or African Swine Fever (ASF), our animal ag producers rely on a swift and coordinated response from government.

In the case of highly transmissible animal diseases like HPAI and ASF, immediate coordination with state and local police as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation are critical to limiting spread. These cross-agency efforts are enacted more immediately with an emergency declaration by the Executive Branch. Once a declaration is in place, our partnership is enhanced to assist with redirecting traffic away from hot spots, setting up checkpoints across the state to inspect animal transport vehicles and question where they’ve been and where they’re going, and having road signs deployed to inform travelers and transporters of new directions or limitations.

In addition to critical cross-agency support, an Emergency Declaration provides the state access to additional federal funding and reimbursement to support response efforts.

Limitations on the Ballot

With the vote that is on the ballots in May, a disaster declaration would automatically end after 21 days, leaving the issue of its continuation up for debate in the legislature. This is a decision that could cause devasting delays in a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Cross-agency collaboration would be limited. Travel would likely increase, putting farms put at high risk for exposure. Emergency funding would come to a screeching halt. In that time, a disease could mutate, further complicating the situation.

We could say goodbye to a lot of jobs. Generations-old farms could close their doors. The economic impact of Pennsylvania’s leading industry of agriculture would tank.

This is just ONE example of the value of swift action in an emergency. Unfortunately, built into the bedrock of a global economy is the inherent risk and high likelihood for future pandemics. In the past decade we’ve had close calls with SARS, H1N1 and Ebola. In agriculture we’re constantly monitoring HPAI and ASF, which are present in other countries.

The ability for the Executive Branch to make necessary, often hard, decisions to protect the livelihoods and lives of Pennsylvanians without being subject to debate by the legislature should not be up for debate.

Farmers deserve immediate response and coordination to agricultural emergencies.

Families suddenly out of work deserve food on their tables.

Pennsylvania deserves a fighting chance for resilience and recovery.

Think past COVID-19 and on to the next emergency. It’s coming. How will limiting a disaster and response affect you and so many others?

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