Connecting Gate to Plate Blog

Animals, Diseases & America’s Well-Being


For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kathy Swift and I am a cattle veterinarian.  I attend to the care of beef and dairy cattle in the northern Florida and southern Georgia.  This past weekend was typical of the beautiful fall weather I have grown to love about living here.  Instead of spending it outside, I was in a classroom for 8 hours.

Why would I spend 8 hours in a class learning something I hope I never have to use?

DVM in bioprotective gear

A picture of me after I have donned my Level 1 bioprotective gear in class.

The class was about responding to a foreign animal disease emergency.

This country takes great steps to protect its livestock and poultry from certain diseases. Many we have eradicated from this country, while several others are in the process of being eradicated and are deemed reportable.  While I was in veterinary school, I had the privilege of receiving foreign animal disease training at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Plum Island, New York. Currently, this is the only place in the United States where foreign animal disease research can take place. (This is about to change with the construction of a new lab in Manhattan, Kansas.)  I got to see some of the diseases we talked about this past weekend first hand.

Our economy and nation’s well-being is dependent on agriculture and the products it provides. A disease outbreak would not only restrict movement of animals AND people in the immediate vicinity (yes, I said people too), the United States would lose the ability to export many food and animal based products to most of the world.  Movement of people and industry would come to a grinding halt.  It’s something I hope I never have to see, but, being prepared for the worst is something we all have to face.

avian flu attention sign

Quarantine sign from a recent avian influenza outbreak in Canada.

I’m a farmer.  What can I do to be prepared?

  • Speak with a trained professional about implementing a biosecurity program.
  • Train the appropriate people, in multiple languages if necessary.
  • Ask all visitors to report to the office.
  • Be vigilant about reporting ANY suspicious activity to the local authorities.

I’m in the agriculture field, but not a farmer. What can I do to be prepared?

  • Take emergency preparedness courses. In the event of an actual disease outbreak, there are not enough government first responders to handle the situation. Volunteers WILL be needed.

I don’t work or have any contact with agriculture. Why should I care?

Chances are that someone you know is employed by the agriculture sector.  Plus, if you are in the quarantine zone, even if you do not have any livestock affected, your life and daily activities will be for some time.

  • When returning from out of the country and you’re asked if you’ve been on a farm or have any food products, be honest!  While it may not seem like a big deal that you visited a farm while you were in China, as a country that still has foot and mouth disease outbreaks, you are putting American agriculture at risk.
  • Become educated on how to respond to an emergency.  Your movements may be limited and your immediate area may suffer economically and emotionally.

The trainers at my class were a part of FEMA. Information about them may be found at The presenters made it clear that they are available to teach large groups of people across the country for any with an interest in being trained for this type of scenario.

In case you’re not on Twitter, or haven’t joined in an #agchat conversation, I am encouraging you to do so. See the FAQs at for more information. I am the guest moderator for the November 9 chat, from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern. We will be discussing emergency planning and disaster preparedness and I would encourage all to attend.

If there’s a disease outbreak, are you prepared?

~ Guest Post by Kathy Swift. You can follow Kathy on twitter @cowartandmore.  She also blogs about her passion for art and agriculture at


  1. Kathy on October 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks Michelle for the opportunity to write about this very important topic. By the way, the silver strip across the top of my apron is actually a piece of duct tape. (There was one on my back too.) The trainer suggested we will need that to write our names on since all of us responding to the emergency will look the same!

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