Did you know the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of two agencies responsible for defending America’s agriculture and food system from disaster? It’s a big responsibility for DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services when you consider that agriculture, food, and related industries contribute around 5.5% to the U.S. gross domestic product. On top of that, the agriculture and food sectors provide about 11 percent of total U.S. employment.
Starting to sound like a very big responsibility, right?
At DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), we’re dedicated to developing innovative technical solutions for homeland security challenges. The scale of our nation’s agriculture and related sectors mean it is essential to invest in cutting-edge chemical and biological defense capabilities, and I’m proud to say we’ve made progress in protecting American livestock from one of the world’s most destructive diseases: Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
While FMD isn’t a human health threat, it will cause significant economic damage if found in the U.S. due to our inability to export meat and milk products. Most infected livestock don’t die because of the disease, but they will be weakened and unable to produce the same amount as they did prior to getting sick. That’s why the U.S. and several other countries are extremely careful about preventing and diagnosing the spread of FMD.
Over the past several months, S&T’s Chemical and Biological Defense Division (CBD), part of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, has helped develop several tools to diagnose and prevent FMD.
In June, CBD worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Veterinary Biologics to license a rapid-response FMD diagnostic kit. This was a big breakthrough for the nation’s agricultural security, since it’s the first FMD diagnostic kit that can be manufactured in the U.S.
S&T’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center also filed several patents in July for tools to combat FMD and other Foreign Animal Diseases. These patents will help improve the effectiveness of existing vaccines, develop new vaccines, and improve disease detection.
Finally, S&T partners at Colorado State University have developed two modeling tools that will help inform outbreak response. The U.S. Animal Movement Model-Shiny App allows users to track cattle shipments across the country, and the CADENCE What-If Tool generates customized outbreak simulations based on a variety of contributing factors. Both of these tools improve animal health emergency planners’ ability to understand the potential scale of an FMD outbreak, its economic impact, and identify approaches for mitigating its spread.
These steps are just the latest in S&T’s commitment to protecting our nation from harm. I’m confident S&T will continue to facilitate the mission to protect American agriculture through our construction of the National Bio and Agrodefense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, with continued help from our partners in government, academia, and the private sector.