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Ramping Up Against Foot-And-Mouth

The new millennium has been no fun for European livestock farmers and the many industries that depend on them.

First there was the mad cow crisis, which began in the 1990s and is far from over. Then came worries about a much older disease, foot-in-mouth.

So far this week, a dozen nations including the U.S. have announced measures to combat foot-and-mouth disease.

Both the mad cow and foot-and-mouth outbreaks have been in Europe but with today's global markets, countermeasures and fears have spread from nation to nation.

Mad cow, a brain disease, can be spread to humans in a form that can kill.

Preventative Measures
The federal government is stepping up efforts to prevent foot-and-mouth disease in the U.S. and keep the disease from ravaging the multi-billion livestock industry.
Foot-and-mouth, a newer term for what used to be called hoof-and-mouth, can't be spread to humans, even if they eat infected animals, but the disease is greatly feared because of its financial effects.

That's because it can make dairy cows go dry, kill very young animals, and make livestock lose weight — which is the same thing as market value, since sheep, cattle and pigs are sold by the pound.

Click here to learn more about foot-and-mouth disease.

Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Norway Wednesday banned imports of livestock and meat products from the 15-nation European Union, in reaction to Tuesday's discovery of foot-and-mouth disease among cattle in northwestern France.

A German border officer
stops a truck transporting
meat from France

Also Wednesday, Japan, Estonia and Latvia announced they were banning livestock products from France. Belgium, Spain and Portugal shut their borders to French meat or livestock earlier in the week.

"Every day, there's another country slapping an mbargo: the U.S., Spain, Belgium," said Guillemette Du Fos, spokesman for the French National Union of Livestock Transportation. "It just gets worse and worse."

In Belgium, 8,000 meat industry workers are now on unemployment because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Tuesday, the U.S. and Canada banned imports of livestock, fresh meat and dairy products from the EU. The EU called the bans excessive, since foot-and-mouth disease is still limited to Britain and France.

"It is not proportionate," EU spokeswoman Beate Gminder said Wednesday. "The only outbreak is in Britain and France," adding the affected areas were under extremely high surveillance to try to contain the disease.

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said in an interview published Wednesday that France is "very exposed" to the risk of more foot-and-mouth cases because of the 20,000 British sheep it imported in February that were scattered in 80 farms around the country.

America and Foot-and-Mouth
The United States has experienced nine outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in its history, in 1870, 1880, 1884, 1902, 1908, 1914, two in 1924 and the last in 1929. The 1929 outbreak was blamed on imported animals.

The worst outbreak was in 1914, The outbreak began in Chicago's stockyards in October and lasted until the following September, and 3,500 herds in 22 states and the District of Colombia were infected.

After the 1929 outbreak, American policy focused on keeping the disease out. In 1930, Congress passed a law barring the importation of meat and animals from countries experiencing outbreaks. In the 1950s, Congress made it illegal for Americans to posses live foot-and-mouth virus.

Following foot-and-mouth outbreaks in Mexico in 1946 and Canada in 1952, the U.S. government launched the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which tracks and studies animal diseases, on Long Island, N.Y. The Center estimates that even a modest foot-and-mouth outbreak in the United States could cost from $54 million to $690 million.

According to the USDA, foot-and-mouth was the first of 12 veterinary diseases that were stamped out in the United States in the 20th century and 13 in the county's history. Others include Texas cattle fever, last seen in 1943, and lethal avian influenza, eradicated in 1985.

Foot-and-mouth is ravaging herds in Britain, where at least 211 cases have been discovered since the first one was announced on Feb. 20. France's Feb. 29 decision to destroy British sheep, along with 30,000 French sheep, failed to keep the disease at bay.

For now, the key method of containing the disease is mass slaughter of animals with suspected infections, a move that will likely result in higher prices for meat. France would consider, as a last resort, vaccinating livestock against the disease, Glavany told the newspaper Le Parisien.

"Vaccination is a measure we don't exclude, in agreement with Brussels, if we can't master the spread of the disease," Glavany was quoted as saying. "But we're not there yet."

Vincent Carlier, a specialist at the Maison Alfort veterinary school outside Paris, where foot-and-mouth tests are analyzed, said in an interview on French television that vaccinations are not foolproof and only work "against certain types of virus."

Even though humans don't get foot-and-mouth disease, they are highly efficient carriers of the virus, which can adhere for long periods to clothing, shoes, and even automobile tires.

Accordingly, travelers across Europe and Asia and from Europe to the U.S. have been subjected to a long list of precautionary measures aimed at killing the virus, including disinfecting vehicles, clothes and shoes, and banning the import of many foods, even as seemingly insignificant as sandwiches in luggage.

In Washington, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says American tourists are the first line of defense in keeping foot-and-mouth from spreading to the U.S.

"They could be exposed to this, not from a human health standpoint, but it possibly could get on their clothes or their shoes," said Veneman, in an interview with CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer.

"Just make sure that your clothes are clean, your shoes are disinfected if you've been in the countryside so that this disease will not come to the United States."

Veneman has ordered a ban on imports of animals and most animal products from Europe. Livestock and dairy imports from Argentina are also banned because the disease has hit there.

Secretary Veneman says foot and mouth disease — not seen here since 1929 — would be devastating to America's livestock.

© MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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