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Want to Save Money? Invest in Agricultural Biosecurity

Nifa Author
Staff Writer, Communications
Guest Author
Prali Chitnis, Communications Staff Intern, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Research and Science

A major war was fought in 2014-2015, with more than 200 battlefields and millions casualties in the United States alone. You may not have seen much of it on the news, but there’s a good chance your wallet felt it.

The outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in 17 states caused the American poultry industry to lose about 51.5 million chickens and turkeys. During this outbreak, the infected flocks cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1 billion in depopulation, cleanup, disinfection, and insurance payments. This also caused the egg-laying population to dramatically decrease. Poultry producers lost $1.1 billion in broiler exports (a 26-percent decrease from the previous year), $41 million in lost egg export income (down 13 percent), and $177 million in turkey export income (a 23-percent decline). The law of supply and demand, naturally, caused consumer prices to increase at grocery stores and restaurants.

The danger of infectious disease outbreaks in the agricultural community is real and preventing them is critical for maintaining the supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable food. This is where biosecurity comes into play.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports agricultural biosecurity by providing funding and national program leadership to projects that secure and protect the integrity, reliability, sustainability, and profitability of the American food and agricultural system against catastrophic hazards, whether natural, emerging, accidental, or deliberate.

Non-animal agricultural biosecurity issues include spotted wing Drosophila, which caused $715 million of damage in berry and stone fruit crops, and the brown marmorated stink bug, which caused $37 million in damage to the apple industry across the mid-Atlantic region. Citrus greening disease, arguably the greatest current threat, is devastating the citrus industry in Texas, Arizona, California, and Florida, where about 80 percent citrus trees are affected.

NIFA’s fight against citrus greening began in February 2016 with a $20.1 million investment in research and extension. The projects included the University of Central Florida testing a bactericide to kill the citrus greening bacteria and the University of California, Riverside developing disease resistant varieties of citrus.

NIFA-funded projects advance our understanding of biosecurity and provide solutions for protecting the food supply from intentional and natural threats and hazards. The National Animal Health Laboratory Network, National Plant Diagnostic Network, and the Citrus Greening Research and Extension manage many of these projects.

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