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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center prepares state for agriculture emergencies

LAS CRUCES - New Mexico is one of the best prepared states for an agriculture emergency thanks to the efforts of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center located at New Mexico State University.

In preparation for agriculture emergencies, whether they are caused by natural disasters, disease or humans, response trailers are stationed in Albuquerque, Clovis and Las Cruces. The trailers contain equipment necessary for a quick response to an incident anywhere in the state, including personal protective equipment, decontamination equipment, emergency power equipment and other supplies.

Kits the size of army duffle bags containing personal protective equipment and tools to response to incidents are in the hands of the New Mexico Agriculture Livestock Response Team that includes 25 large animal veterinarians, as well as New Mexico Livestock Board inspectors, New Mexico Department of Agriculture personnel in the field and all NMSU Cooperative Extension county agents.

County emergency management task forces across the state are preparing plans to response to agricultural emergencies within their counties. Table top exercises are being held to prepare county law enforcement, fire and medical response personnel to be ready for incidents that impact the agriculture industry.

This preparedness is the result of the awareness and preparedness training provided by Billy Dictson and Jeff Witte, co-directors of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center (SWBFSDC).

"Most states don't have a focus point like our center to coordinate the awareness and response training," said Dictson. "They have various people doing things but not one focus group pulling it all together."

In New Mexico that focus group is the unique partnership between NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics' Cooperative Extension Service, New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and New Mexico Department of Homeland Security. Through the food safety and defense center these agencies have been working for nearly three years to raise the awareness of New Mexicans about agriculture and food safety, especially from terrorist transmitted disease.

The state's homeland security department provides the federal funding, while NMDA buys the necessary equipment and NMSU provides the educational component to prepare New Mexico to respond to emergency incidents within the agriculture industry, whether it's caused by nature or humans.

"We've provided vulnerability assessment and community preparedness training to agricultural industry folks, from the New Mexico Livestock Board, New Mexico Department of Agriculture and NMSU Cooperative Extension personnel to industry groups such as the cattle growers, wool growers, dairy producers, as well as county emergency management personnel, including law enforcement, fire and emergency medical responders and public health personnel," Dictson said of the work he and Witte have accomplished over the past three years with $4.18 million in grants and contracts.

From this training, two response teams have been established. The New Mexico Agriculture Livestock Response Team consisting of 25 large animal veterinarians and the Avian Influenza Response Team consisting of personnel from the Extension Service, NMDA, livestock board, New Mexico Game and Fish and New Mexico Department of Health in four regions of the state.

The training has also included table top exercises with agriculture, environment and health agencies' personnel from the four U.S. states and six Mexican states that share the United States and Mexico border.

"This was the first time these agencies had worked together to resolve a common problem," Dictson said of the exercise that was held during November 2007 in Albuquerque. "This type of exercise has not been done anywhere else in the nation. The people along the northern border with Canada are interested in what we are doing because they would like to do something similar."

Making people aware of the dangers that could impact our food sources and agriculture are the driving force behind the work of Dictson and Witte.

"I believe it's not if something will happen, but it is inevitable," said Dictson. "I think agriculture and our food supply is tremendously at risk because of a number of issues - global food supply, people traveling abroad more than in the past, and the fact that we have people in this world who don't like the United States."

This spring and summer, SWBFSDC is taking its awareness training to the grass roots by educating the general public about food safety and agriculture vulnerability.

"We will train between 20,000 and 30,000 people between now and the end of June," Dictson said. "There is some form of training being done in every county and with various livestock associations."

Other projects to make the general public aware of agriculture and food safety include:

•Awareness programs with elementary school students through a farm safety day and Kids, Kows and More programs in 16 counties where 800 to 1,500 students attend.

•Home preparedness kits, which include flashlights, hand sanitation lotion, prescription record books and safety literature, will be distributed to 20,000 youth through the county Extension offices.

•New Mexico Farm and Ranch Bureau's Ag in the Classroom program is preparing a booklet, "Your Food Supply: Keeping it Safe and Secure" will be inserted in 400,000 newspapers.

•100 teachers in the Ag in the Classroom program focused lessons on agriculture and food safety this spring.

•The 172 dairy farms in New Mexico will receive vulnerability assessments to become bio-secure dairies and best practice dairies. The assessment teams will be coordinated by Robert Hagevoort, NMSU Extension dairy specialist.

•Approximately 4,000 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors will receive response kits and livestock response kits will be provided to 4-H agents and vocational agriculture teachers.

For more information about the Southwest Borders Food Safety and Defense Center activities and trainings visit their Web site at http://cahe.nmsu.edu/ces/nmhs/index.html.