Economic Impact of FMD Outbreaks
Outbreaks of FMD can have a catastrophic economic impact. Between March and July 1997, FMD struck Taiwan for the first time in sixty years. The particular strain of the virus was “pig-adapted,” meaning that it contained genetic mutations that made it highly virulent in swine but much less so in other cloven hoofed species. The disease, which apparently originated on the Chinese mainland, spread like wildfire throughout Taiwan. Over a period of six weeks, FMD virus infected a total of 6,147 pig farms, decimating the country’s huge swine industry.14 The price of Taiwanese hogs dropped 60 percent within a week, and the export market to Japan collapsed. Bringing the epidemic under control required the slaughter of some 4 million pigs at a cost of more than $6 billion, and some 50,000 workers in the swine industry lost their jobs. The Taiwanese swine industry never recovered.5 Before the 1997 outbreak Taiwan was one the world’s leading pork exporters, but today it is a net importer.
FMD also struck the United Kingdom in 2001 after British pigs were fed food scraps from a restaurant that was infected with the virus. The contaminated meat had either been smuggled into Britain or mislabeled with a false certificate of origin. Because the strain of FMD virus sickened pigs but did not cause obvious illness in other susceptible animals, sheep incubating the disease were distributed widely. By the time the outbreak was detected, between 30 and 50 farms throughout Britain had been affected, and the veterinary authorities were quickly overwhelmed. It took six months to contain the outbreak. Efforts by the British authorities to prevent the spread of the disease led to the culling of 6 million animals—4.9 million sheep, 700,000 cattle, and 400,000 pigs. Many of the culled animals were not sick but simply in the vicinity of an infected farm. The slaughter of vast numbers of animals (up to 100,000 per day) cost farmers a total of £3.1 billion and caused severe emotional distress. The British government paid £2.5 billion in compensation and for disposal and clean-up costs.15 Because of reduced tourism and trade, the total cost to the British economy was more than £8 billion ($15 billion).5