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2001 New Jersey Agriculture Annual Report


The Division of Animal Health maintains disease control programs to protect the health of livestock in New Jersey. The division tracks information about emerging diseases around the world that may impact the Garden State, conducts epidemiological investigations of livestock diseases and drug residues, operates an animal health diagnostic laboratory, manages a contagious equine metritis quarantine facility in Long Valley for imported horses and supports an aggressive Johne's disease control program.


Foreign animal diseases, and their potential impact on the livestock industry in New Jersey and surrounding states, required an unprecedented level of attention from NJDA this year. The European outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease had the greatest potential for devastation to the industry and disruption of human lives and commerce, but the spectre of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow" disease), the spread of West Nile virus and protection against contagious equine metritis were critical issues for animal producers.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Despite its eradication from the United States in 1929, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) remains a constant in livestock production worldwide except in North America and Australia. The highly contagious viral disease frequently causes death in cattle, swine, sheep and other susceptible species but surviving animals continue to pass the virus along to new herdmates and show economically-significant reduction in milks and meat production. The only true control for the disease is destruction of infected animals and immediate carcass disposal.

For several months, beginning this winter, graphic daily media reports underscored the plight of animal producers in Great Britain and in several other European countries where an outbreak of FMD not only impacted livestock herds but also reduced tourism to a trickle and resulted in restrictions on routine commerce. Investigation of the capability of the United States and each individual state to prevent entry of the virus, or to rapidly identify and contain an outbreak, became a priority for USDA and each state's department of agriculture.

Early in the epidemic, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service declared New Jersey a "high risk" state for the introduction of FMD because of the volume of travelers and cargo arriving at sea and airports in and around the state. In response, NJDA became intensively involved in statewide, regional and national activities to mitigate the potential impact of FMD on New Jersey and the nation.

NJDA's four-pronged approach included leadership on the state's FMD taskforce; enhanced surveillance in the field; intensive educational and outreach efforts; and leadership on national committees charged with identifying vulnerable areas in the nation's animal health defenses.

In March, NJDA formed a multi-agency emergency task force to begin assessing the FMD threat and needs for potential response. The task force, comprised of representatives of state and federal agencies, volunteer organizations and the private sector, was charged with the responsibility of producing an FMD Appendix to the New Jersey Emergency Operations Plan and enhancing the state's ability to deal effectively and without delay should a case of FMD be diagnosed.

In coordination with USDA/Veterinary Services, NJDA upgraded existing inspection programs for licensed swine producers, slaughterhouses, livestock auctions and markets. Facility inspections included an in-person update for producers about the basic disease characteristics of FMD and specific guidelines to follow to prevent and/or report the disease.

Further outreach efforts included regional meetings for the state's agriculture community with county extension agents, animal disease experts and division representatives. At these meetings, detailed biosecurity guidelines were distributed for use by producers and livestock owners on and off their farms. Links to USDA, foreign agricultural agencies, and all information available through NJDA were posted to the department's website.

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus (WNV), a foreign mosquito-borne equine disease that can be fatal to many species, including both humans and horses, first surfaced in the Northeast in FY00, with 63 clinical cases of equine WNV reported from seven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states from mid-August through October. Of these, 23 died or were euthanized, a very high mortality rate.

In FY01, NJDA continued its participation with the New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Senior Services on the state's WNV task force. In addition to developing a plan for equine testing and reporting for 2001, NJDA veterinarians traveled the state speaking to a variety of audiences to help educate the public and government agencies about concerns specific to the equine industry.

The department also expanded its outreach efforts to help veterinarians and equine owners minimize mosquito breeding areas and enhanced its animal health laboratory testing capabilities to better protect the Garden State's equine population.

Key to the outreach effort was a cooperative project with Rutgers/Cook College and the state's 4-H program. Trained students acted as NJDA's "ambassadors" to provide information to their fellow horsemen about ways to minimize the chance of WNV infection on farms and at competitions. They also distributed educational materials at county fairs and livestock shows.

NJDA's veterinarians worked closely with USDA to expedite the field safety trial required prior to release under conditional licensure of a newly-developed WNV vaccine. The drug was expected to be released in August 2001. As part of the WNV task force, NJDA implemented a plan developed in the spring of 2000 to help identify and diagnose the virus in horses.

During the year, staff veterinarians consulted with private veterinarians in more than 100 cases resulting in over 330 laboratory tests in 81 cases and provided field support in 28 case investigations. In addition, NJDA veterinarians retrieved over 1,000 blood samples from nearly 800 horses on 65 farms in an effort to begin identifying risk factors that might be mitigated in the years ahead to provide better protection against WNV infection.

In New Jersey this season, 28 horses in 11 counties developed clinical signs of infection while an additional 15 horses on the affected farms and five horses from control farms developed antibodies to the virus without showing any sign of illness. Eight of the 28 horses with clinical signs did not survive the infection.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

For over a decade, NJDA has contracted with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct tissue tests for violations of drug residue regulations in meat animals. Building upon that relationship, this year the FDA contracted with the department to conduct inspections of feed mills, renderers, and protein blenders in the state to ensure that these operations are aware of and in compliance with the federal bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) mammalian protein feeding ban rule enacted in 1997. The rule listed certain proteins or tissues acquired from slaughtered ruminants that must not be incorporated into feedstuffs destined for cattle, sheep, goats or other ruminants.

Contagious Equine Metritis

Contagious equine metritis (CEM), a highly contagious disease of the reproductive system of horses, has not yet made its way into the United States and NJDA works to keep the disease at bay through its CEM quarantine facility in Long Valley. All horses entering the country for breeding purposes must enter a quarantine facility before traveling in the United States and the NJDA center is the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The animal health laboratory, in partnership with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and supported by a grant from the New Jersey Equine Association, has been working to improve the speed and accuracy of testing methods for the detection of the CEM organism. New Jersey breeders and equestrians bringing valuable Warmblood horses into the United States from countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Great Britain for eventual use in breeding programs or equine competitions find the Long Valley location convenient and NJDA's services cost-effective and accurate. New Jersey tested 78 horses in its facility during FY01.


Laboratory Services

In addition to preparing specimens and coordinating testing for some foreign animal diseases, NJDA's animal health laboratory conducts a wide variety of tests to support domestic livestock disease control programs, including veterinary bacteriology, virology, serology, gross post mortem exams, and histology.

Equine veterinarians in New Jersey rely on the laboratory for required Coggins tests for equine infectious anemia (EIA) as well as tests for eastern and western equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, equine influenza, Lyme disease, Potomac horse fever, herpes virus, and equine viral arteritis.

New Jersey's bovine practitioners depend on the laboratory to test for diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea, parainfluenza, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, brucellosis, and Johne's, among others.

This year, the diagnostic laboratory successfully completed the most recent round of certification testing administered by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories as required for all government labs doing regulatory tests including EIA, bluetongue, bovine leukemia, and pseudorabies. Through these and other services, the laboratory supports New Jersey's livestock industry, providing private veterinarians with fast, accurate, convenient and economical animal health testing services.

Johne's Disease

NJDA continued its participation in a voluntary Johne's disease control program for New Jersey dairy farmers in an effort to control this debilitating, bacterial gastrointestinal disease. Control of Johne's disease can boost producer profits by an estimated $200 per cow every year through increased, better quality milk production and fewer early culling losses.

The cooperative effort among NJDA, Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE), and dairy producers focuses on herd testing and identification of Johne's-positive animals using blood test and fecal cultures, both of which are processed in the NJDA laboratory. In the four years the program has been offered, over one-third of the state's 140 dairy herds have been enrolled.

A secondary focus of the program is the development of an individualized herd plan for each producer. The plan helps identify and remedy high-risk areas for Johne's transmission to calves and young stock.

Avian Influenza

Avian influenza (AI) viruses have been studied for years and the devastating impact of the highly pathogenic forms of this virus on both poultry and human health has been documented around the world. Recently, the low pathogenic forms of AI, routinely present in New Jersey's live bird markets, have been targeted by USDA and the poultry industry because of emerging evidence that these strains can mutate to the more virulent forms at any time.

NJDA has had regulations in place for decades to address AI. However, the threat of conversion to more virulent forms has necessitated increased surveillance and controls. As part of this effort, NJDA has been part of a task force, the Live Bird Market Working Group, examining with the producers and bird dealers possible ways to eliminate the low pathogenic forms in New Jersey markets. The group includes members representing USDA, state agriculture agencies, and the industry in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Pseudorabies Virus

Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a very contagious swine disease that can also affect cattle, sheep, goats, and, in rare instances, horses. It causes production losses, reproductive problems in breeding and finishing hogs and death in piglets. In 1989, USDA established a PRV eradication program and recently accelerated the program to support eradication efforts.

In 1998 New Jersey was nearing a federal declaration of PRV-free status, but outbreaks of the disease on farms in Gloucester and Cumberland Counties presented a set-back. Thanks to immediate intervention by NJDA and help from USDA, New Jersey successfully eradicated the virus from affected premises. Through required continuous testing, NJDA will soon be able to give USDA the needed information to support the declaration of PRV-free status for the Garden State.

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