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Can Foot-and-Mouth Disease Spread to the US?

The British government has stepped up efforts to contain the spread of foot-and-mouth disease among its livestock. In addition to the nearly 200,000 animals slaughtered and burned in the past few weeks, 100,000 more are slated for execution.

The US has no reported cases of the disease so far. But as CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports, in Texas, cattle country, it is hard to rein in the worry.

Long-time rancher Jim Link says watching England's livestock go up in smoke is fueling concerns. "If it gets to your place, you're in trouble. Your animals are going to be slaughtered and there's no way out of that," he says.

Fear that foot-and-mouth disease will find its way to Texas and kill off cattle is running rampant in a state that has relied more heavily on the beef industry than any other.

"It's like a tornado hitting," says Rob Hosford of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. "You're talking about people going out of business, packing up their bags, and filing for bankruptcy, and going and doing something else."

Last fall, Texas officials constructed a hypothetical model that tried to predict what would happen if foot-and-mouth broke out in the state. The results: a foot-and-mouth epidemic could wipe out the $18.5 billion a year ranching industry.

In the study's scenario, the outbreak starts at the border of the state in Brownsville, where contaminated food scraps arrive on a foreign ship. A truck hauls them north--there, a farmer feeds the meat to his pigs, and the swine get sick. But some have already been sold. Infected livestock then pop up as far away as Dallas County. In the meantime, the truck carrying the infected meat has crisscrossed the country.

Officials estimate the clean-up cost would be $50 million for just one county, according to one of the study's authors. "It's been commonly said that it's not a matter of if it's going to come, but when," says Dan Coates, researcher.

For Jim Link, foot-and-mouth disease used to be a tall tale told by his grandfather about an unstoppable virus that hit Texas back in the 1920s. Now, he’s afraid he may soon have his own horror story to tell.

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