USDA’s Homeland Security is in Farmers’ Corner

African swine fever is a prime example of a non-zoonotic disease that, if it were to enter the U.S., would deliver a crushing economic blow. The Beagle Brigade works hard to keep pork and pork products from other countries from entering the U.S. to prevent the introduction of FADs. ( U.S. Customs and Border Protection )

By JoAnn Alumbaugh

Not a day goes by that Scott Linsky isn’t thinking about protecting America’s livestock from biodefense risks. Linsky, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Homeland Security, says, “Every day in my job is a learning opportunity. We link incredible subject-matter expertise within the department and put the right people in the right meeting at the right time.” Linsky, who was a featured speaker at the 2018 U.S. Animal Health Association Annual Meeting, says his office’s responsibilities go far beyond that description, however. And with just 60 people, a lot of ground gets covered. 

His office works with the food and agriculture sector, one of 17 critical infrastructure sectors. He explains that 61% of all human diseases are zoonotic in origin, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to people. Furthermore, zoonotic diseases encompass more than 70% of all emerging diseases. But even diseases that are not zoonotic can have devastating impacts.

“In 2015, the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak cost the U.S. government more than $800 million and led to major decreases in our international trade share,” Linsky says. “The 2001 Foot and mouth disease outbreak cost the United Kingdom an estimated 8 billion pounds.” 

African swine fever is another prime example of a non-zoonotic disease that, if it were to enter the U.S., would deliver a crushing economic blow. Food and agriculture economist Jayson Lusk considered the impacts of the virus if only U.S. domestic supply were affected, but foreign and U.S. consumers did not change their preferences. 

“In the mildest scenario (a 10% supply reduction), both U.S. consumers and U.S. hog producers would lose about $1 billion/year,” he says. “In the worst-case scenario considered (a 50% supply reduction), both U.S. producers and consumers would be worse off by almost $5 billion/year.”

National Biodefense Strategy
The Office of Homeland Security has a National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) to help agriculture prepare for and combat animal disease risks, Linsky says. It originated as a six-agency workgroup that included the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and state offices. Over time, it’s grown to include 19 departments or agencies. It offers a USDA workgroup, along with stakeholder engagement, congressional briefings and White House involvement.

The NBS governance was signed last September, and Linsky explains it’s not just a human health document – plant and animal health are included throughout, in an effort to strengthen coordination. The NBS “addresses bio-threats and bio-incidents that have the potential to cause significant harm (as measured by injury or death, or damage to property, the environment or the economy) to the U.S. or to U.S. interests, or that otherwise affect U.S. national security.” It includes these five goals:

•    Enable risk awareness to inform decision-making across the biodefense enterprise (coordinate)
•    Assure biodefense enterprise capabilities to prevent bio-incidents (prevent)
•    Ensure biodefense enterprise preparedness to reduce the impacts of bio-incidents (prepare)
•    Rapidly respond to limit the impacts of bio-incidents (respond)
•    Facilitate recovery to restore the community, the economy, and the environment after a bio-incident (recovery)

Defense Against Agroterrorism
The “Defense Against Agroterrorism Working Group” (DAAWG) was formed as part of NBS to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. government’s efforts to protect from, defend against, and respond to agroterrorist threats, through enhanced communication and collaboration, says Linsky. It represents a partnership between federal agency representatives to develop a clear understanding of threats, avoid duplication of efforts, and increase information-sharing, he adds.

The group is already showing positive results in improving partnerships with the intelligence community, not to mention the strengthened awareness it provides to livestock producers and their respective industries.

If you’re interested in topics like this, as well as important animal health updates, attend the 2019 USAHA-AAVLD Annual Meeting, Oct. 24-30, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI. For more information, go to

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