“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”
It is a saying we have heard time and time again.
In the case of COVID-19, our weak link was a virus we had little understanding of, and its ripple effects continue to impact the United States and the world.
Whether it’s COVID-19 or other pathogens causing devastating outbreaks, emerging infectious diseases are an imminent threat to animal and human health. They are also a direct threat to our food supply.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services is on the forefront of controlling and eradicating diseases in livestock and poultry, but its mission plays a much deeper role in safeguarding human health and our economy.
Throughout COVID-19, the BAHDS team has been responding to threats of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, in animal populations, as there has been evidence of the virus in captive deer, mink, cats and dogs.
BAHDS has been on the road with a retrofitted trailer testing for SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious diseases where there appears to be an imminent risk. With this mobile response unit, BAHDS can respond more quickly to obtain samples, assess populations posing a risk or acting as a virus reservoir, and take appropriate measures when necessary.
While there is no evidence to indicate that these animals can spread the virus to humans, if animal populations become a risk to animal and human health, the trailer allows swift and effective action to safeguard animal agriculture and human-animal populations.
We are responding in real time because it’s a real and necessary need. Pennsylvania’s animal agriculture industry is a leading economic driver. Preventing emerging infectious diseases is critical to preventing economic loss to farmers and the commonwealth.
Throughout COVID-19, we saw significant shifts in supply and demand in the food system combined with the threat of COVID-19 to agriculture and food workers. The pandemic exposed our vulnerabilities, and it revealed the interconnected nature of public health, animal health and our food supply.
Safeguarding animal health is safeguarding human health, and it goes far beyond the pathogens that cause COVID-19.
The mobile response trailer has been an invaluable tool, and our partners at the Department of Health recognize its role in protecting human populations from zoonotic threats.
Biosecurity Starts on the Farm
Earlier this year, the Department of Health awarded BAHDS nearly $72,000 to renovate and update the response trailer through an allocation of federal dollars to respond to COVID-19.
With this grant, the trailer will be fully equipped and ready to respond to COVID-19 and other zoonotic disease threats, but there is more we can do to safeguard agriculture and our food system at every step of the supply chain.
It starts on the farm.
With imminent threats of highly pathogenic avian influenza, African swine fever and other emerging infectious diseases, there are three basic measures producers can take to minimize damage to operations and soften the blow of a disease outbreak. Or even better, prevent disease altogether.
These three measures — having a premises ID, properly tagging animals, and implementing a rigorous biosecurity plan — can be the difference between depopulation and getting animals to market.
It is also critical that we recognize that biosecurity is a two-way street for animals and humans.
After experiencing a pandemic, we’ve come away with lessons learned that serve as a call to action. Many farmers and producers are already implementing practices to protect their animals, but it is important that we pause and ask ourselves what more we can do to safeguard animal health, human health and our food system.
Whether it’s premises IDs, tagging animals, creating or updating a biosecurity plan, or doing our part to vaccinate and get vaccinated, there are measures we can all take to ensure the vibrancy of animal agriculture and a safe and reliable food supply.
If you have questions about any of these three steps, your veterinarian is a great resource. We also encourage you to reach out to BAHDS. Call 717-772-2852 or email RAfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Pennsylvania’s animal agriculture industry is a $34.6 billion economic driver that contributes to the livelihoods and food security of people worldwide.
The mobile response trailer and on-farm biosecurity practices help us tell that story, and more importantly, they are safeguarding animal health and human health so we can continue growing for generations to come.
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