- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

The United States needs new measures to ensure the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease does not reach U.S. shores, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said yesterday.

The federal government will continue its vigilance against foot-and-mouth disease, she said one day after announcing new measures to prevent a domestic outbreak of the virus, sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease, sweeping through European livestock.

The government announced extra patrols at U.S. borders, seaports and airports Wednesday, and said it would work closely with state governments to monitor for foot-and-mouth, a highly contagious disease that is harmless to humans but devastating for cattle, swine and other cloven-hoofed animals.

At a press conference yesterday in Riverdale, Miss Veneman outlined a public education campaign and urged the media to help report the facts about the virus and the disastrous effect it could have on the nation's livestock industry.

"This disease is not a threat to human health, but it can be spread through humans," Miss Veneman said, later asking reporters to help "get the word out" to the public.

Foot-and-mouth disease creates sores in an animal's mouth, hooves and teats and can be carried by the wind, human clothing and even by farm equipment, such as tractors.

The disease has surfaced across Europe. Earlier this month, France destroyed the 20,000 sheep imported from Britain, as well as 30,000 French sheep that had contact with them.

Britain has slaughtered at least 170,000 animals since its initial outbreak earlier this year.

Miss Veneman said the measures announced this week should keep the United States safe from a domestic foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will dispatch 150 extra inspectors to the nation's busiest ports, and will double the number of dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers, she said.

The department has about 2,000 animal inspectors nationwide.

The government will also work closely with state veterinarians to stay abreast of foot-and-mouth developments across the country, Miss Veneman said.

"It is the local response that has to occur first. We have to have good coordination at the state level," she said.

In addition, she said the department will continue its temporary ban on European meat products, and it will prohibit travelers from Europe from carrying cattle, swine or other animal products that could result in the spread of the virus.

Dr. Richard Breitmeyer, state veterinarian for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said state governments are willing to work with federal officials to monitor for the disease.

California was the site of the nation's last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which occurred in 1929.

"We really respect this virus," Dr. Breitmeyer said, noting its potential to seriously disrupt California's $4 billion-a-year dairy industry.

Dr. Alfonso Torres, the chief veterinary medical officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the government may need to step up funding for programs to prevent the disease.

"We're not talking about major gaps. We're talking about fine-tuning the programs we have," Dr. Torres said.

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