While agro-terrorism seems capable of devastating the Iowa countryside, an Iowa State University professor said animal disease situations in the past have not been all "gloom and doom."
"We've lived with a lot of really nasty diseases worldwide for a long time," said Dr. Norlan Hartwig, professor and Extension veterinarian at the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine. "We've been able to control those very well. If they have got into the country, we've been able to eradicate them."
Dr. Hartwig is one of the featured speakers at the 7th annual Ag Expo in Storm Lake, sponsored by the chamber of commerce, on Thursday, Jan. 10. Also speaking will be Emily Eide, director of national affairs for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Hartwig will discuss biosecurity and agro-terrorism in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as the foot and mouth disease epidemic which spread through England earlier this year.
As an Extension veterinarian, Hartwig is responsible for collecting research-based information that is useful to Iowa farmers and livestock producers.
"In the past year I've spent a lot of time on foreign animal disease prevention and control," he said. "I have been working with lots of other folks and organizations on that.
"Since Sept. 11, the awareness of bioterrorism has come up a lot," he added. "We were concerned about that before, but it has increased a lot."
His presentation at the Ag Expo will focus on biosecurity and agro-terrorism.
"I think we all need to be concerned," Hartwig said. "Agriculture worldwide is a wide-open system, so the question is how can we best protect ourselves if events should occur, and how do we contain any threat?"
Cooperation and communication will be needed between individual farm operations, regional, state and national officials, and even further on the international level, he said. It takes a team effort to prevent and control disease outbreaks, he said.
"We have regulatory people with authority to impose controls," Hartwig said. "Meanwhile, Iowa State is an education institution, we don't wear a badge, but we can help with informing farmers."
Recent state efforts around crop and livestock safety have involved the Iowa Department of Agriculture, the Iowa Emergency Management Division, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, as well as the National Guard, Iowa Highway Patrol, Department of Natural Resources, and commodity organizations. "It's a long list," Hartwig said.
Hartwig hopes to inform those in the Storm Lake area about some of the major animal diseases and vulnerable spots in the state's agricultural infrastructure.
"There are some basic biosecurity things farmers and livestock producers can do, and there are some things clear up through the national level that can be done," he said.
It is also important to know what the response will be to a disease outbreak. "There are programs in place in case of an event or accident or the deliberate introduction of a disease into our agricultural systems," Hartwig said.
While the focus has been on agro-terrorism, Hartwig will also discuss naturally-occurring diseases and outbreaks caused accidentally.
"We have to remember some of these happen as natural events and as the natural spread of foreign diseases," he said. "It occurred in the United Kingdom with foot and mouth, but there's also the recent concern over BSE or mad cow disease."
With a background in public health, Hartwig will also discuss disease transmission between animals and humans. Anthrax is one example of that. "I hope to discuss that when something like that does occur, what the public health risks are," he said.
While Hartwig is most familiar with animal diseases, farm crops are also vulnerable.
"The risk of bioterrorism, what we call foreign animal diseases, is the same for crops, though they are not as vulnerable as livestock," he said.
Many in Iowa have brushed up on their knowledge of various bioterrorist threats and animal diseases. "All of us have sharpened up on this," Hartwig said.
He has spent time throughout the state working with local veterinarians so they are more aware of what to look for.
"We're spending time raising awareness of what to look for, what to do if a foreign animal disease is expected, and what happens if it is confirmed," Hartwig said.
Already the State of Iowa has a detailed foot and mouth disease response plan, as well as response plans for other animal diseases. "We are ready to respond, but we have to be ready to act quickly," he said.
Hartwig said he feels most livestock producers will recognize when something is not right with their animals.
"Most livestock producers are aware when something is not right," he said. "They may not be able to diagnose it, but there is the awareness that something is wrong."
When something unfamiliar happens, Hartwig said it is important for producers to contact a veterinarian.
"They can get specific diagnostic support and report it. It's a well organized system for that," he said.
Hartwig hopes to increase knowledge of agro-terrorism and foreign animal diseases when he speaks Jan. 10 at the Storm Lake Ag Expo.
"Hopefully people will walk away with some idea of the risks, what can be done, and an awareness of what would happen," he said.
Dr. Hartwig will speak at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Ag Expo, which will be at the Hultgrens Gerlach Building on C-49 in Storm Lake.