Guest Column: Livestock security affects us all | PostIndependent.com
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Guest Column: Livestock security affects us all

When people go shopping for food for their dinner table, they may consider its nutritious value and its cost, but many don’t consider the farmer and rancher behind every piece of food on their plate. For every bite you take, the agricultural community strives to provide a healthy, abundant food supply. But, let’s dig even deeper to a global security level.

Each morning on the news, there seems to be stories of terrorism across the globe. In a world that can sometimes seem unstable and hostile, it has become even more critical that we look at areas that could be exposed to intentional acts of terrorism. Livestock health rates high on that list for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

While we focus on the day-to-day health and well-being of livestock, we must also be aware that agro-terrorism is a reasonable threat. It is vital that we prepare for serious incidents that could potentially devastate our livestock industry. This includes an intentional act of terrorism or an unintentional introduction of a foreign animal disease through the spread of a microbial agent.



Why is this important? The agricultural community plays a tremendous role in our way of life, including our food and our economy.

Movement of livestock in the U.S. not only increases our vulnerability to a foreign animal disease, but also complicates our livestock emergency response efforts. Yet ,if the livestock industry has excessive restrictions placed on its movement, the restrictions could contribute to a very large economic loss during a disease outbreak.

In Colorado, agriculture represents an important component of our state’s overall economic health. Agriculture generates over $40 billion in economic activity, supports over 170,000 jobs across our state, and contributes $2 billion in exports annually.



Animal agriculture is a key part of that effort. In 2013, livestock and livestock products accounted for over 65 percent of all farm receipts in Colorado, with cash receipts for cattle and calves expected to reach a record high of $3.7 billion in 2014. Colorado ranks 10th nationally for cattle and calves production, second for sheep and lambs, third for wool production and fifth for cattle that are on feed.

We have cattle and calves in virtually every county of the state. Dairy cows are increasing in numbers, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of Colorado, with the dairy industry’s economic impact growing daily. Hogs and pigs, sheep and lambs all contribute to the health of Colorado’s animal industry in important ways.

It has been estimated that on any given day in Colorado, there are 50,000 head of cattle “on wheels.” That is the norm for animal agriculture in many other states, too. The U.S. pork industry estimates that there are over 600,000 head of swine being transported each and every day in the U.S.

Movement of livestock in the U.S. not only increases our vulnerability to a foreign animal disease, but also complicates our livestock emergency response efforts. Yet, if the livestock industry has excessive restrictions placed on its movement, the restrictions could contribute to a very large economic loss during a disease outbreak.

As you can see, if there is a breakdown in Colorado’s livestock industry, it could create problems within our food system, economy and transportation.

There is no question that a major outbreak of a foreign animal disease or an agro-terrorism incident in Colorado could do serious harm, threatening not only the livelihood of producers across the state, but possibly increasing the health risks to the consuming public as well. At the end of the day, the result could be highly significant costs to both human and economic health.

As a state, we have to be prepared to respond to such a risk. It is critical that we understand that responding to an emergency, whether it be a terrorism incident or a disease outbreak, managing it and controlling it will require a concerted effort across multiple agencies, involving many dedicated people. It will require collaboration, communication and teamwork between the states, federal entities and the livestock industry. To be effective and efficient, we must be partners in preparedness, response and recovery.

John Salazar is Colorado commissioner of agriculture, a longtime Southwest Colorado rancher and former U.S. Representative.


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