NMSU hosts international emergency response exercise
LAS CRUCES — Protecting the food supply is not just an intrastate issue, but an interstate and international concern as well.
The United States exports more than $90 billion of agricultural produce each year and imports nearly $60 billion worth of food. Two of the largest trading partners for the U.S. are its continental neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
To help address common agricultural issues and concerns related to the international border between the U.S. and Mexico, state agriculture and public health agencies have coordinated agriculture emergency response training programs through the Border Governors’ Conference with support of the governors from each of the 10 border states.
To continue the development of working relationships with the four U.S. and six Mexican states, the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University hosted a full-scale training exercise on Nov. 5 at NMSU’s Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center in Las Cruces. The event was co-sponsored by NMSU, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“Certainly for the border states, we have had a long tradition of discussion and relationships. Arizona has a sister relationship with Sonora; Texas with Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas; and New Mexico with Chihuahua. The countries and states have been interested in trade, health, immigration, and other issues that are central to the discussion in regard to the border,” said New Mexico Department of Agriculture Director-Secretary Miley Gonzalez.
“In the case of agriculture, we have always been doing trade, and yet it’s never been a high priority in terms of protecting it, at least until 2003 when the importance of food safety was put on the Border Governors’ Conference agenda.”
Given the new scenarios and the Border Governors’ work with agriculture issues, Gonzalez said, “We have heightened the awareness of the part all 10 states play in protecting the food for both of our countries.”
As a result, interdepartmental, interstate training exercises began. Working relationships have developed at each level among local, state and federal agencies in each state on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border; as a result, the response to emergency situations has improved greatly.
“The key for our partnerships is for us to have a common approach to a problem so we can react immediately and know that it did not threaten the food supply,” Gonzalez said.
Arizona Department of Agriculture Director Donald Butler said the training helps the various states and their agencies be on the “same page and to know who to call and what the arrangements are in Mexico and other states.”
Jose Lionel Camalich Lagarda, Food Safety and Plant Safety Director of the Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Recursos Hidráulicos, Pesca y Acuacultura (SAGARHPA) in Sonora, Mexico, said the training helps “us know a little bit more about how to work with the rest of the states in Mexico and the states across the border in the United States. It has helped us plan better in case of an outbreak or problem and how to work together during a response.”
During the full-scale exercise in November, 116 representatives of U.S. and Mexican agencies participated in responding to a scenario of sick cattle being discovered in various New Mexico towns, and some cattle that had been transported to Texas and Arizona and from Mexico. Participants had to determine the cause of illness and track down the source, which turned out to be a pathogen in alfalfa. The various agencies had to conduct the protocols they would use to gather samples of animal feed, bailed hay, and the alfalfa plants. The exercise also included media contacts to assure the public that no illness was transmitted to humans or other animals.
Contact Jane Moorman