USDA bans meat from EU to curb disease risk

WASHINGTON – The foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that began in Britain Feb. 19 and has led to the slaughter of 116,000 British animals thus far with more culling on the way, has jumped the English Channel and infected livestock in France.

The French department of agriculture had confirmed foot-and-mouth infection in 114 cattle, which joined the 40,000 animals already slaughtered and incinerated in France, as a precautionary measure.

In Italy, veterinary services were conducting further tests on a sheep herd originally imported from France, where they had been exposed to, but not necessarily contracted the disease.

The disease made its presence known in other countries as well. The Argentine Farming and Food Health Agency has confirmed the existence of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in its central Buenos Aires province. And officials in Colombia detected the first two outbreaks this year. The country recorded 39 outbreaks in 2000.

As France stepped up measures to control the outbreak, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Germany and Switzerland slapped a ban on all imports of cloven-hoofed French livestock.

U.S. response.

The USDA is temporarily prohibiting the import of swine and ruminant, and any fresh swine or ruminant meat (chilled or frozen) and other products of swine and ruminants from the European Union.

This does not include cooked pork products.

This temporary action is being taken following confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease in France. The USDA had previously announced similar actions regarding the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

On alert.

In recent weeks, USDA has stepped up measures to guard against foot-and-mouth disease. These actions include:

* Temporarily prohibiting the importation of swine and ruminant, and any fresh swine or ruminant meat (chilled or frozen) and other products of swine and ruminants from the European Union.

These restrictions augment those already in place on ruminants and ruminant products to prevent the introduction of BSE into the United States;

* Prohibiting travelers entering the United States from carrying any agricultural products, particularly animal products, that could spread the disease. (See related article.)

Passengers are required to identify any farm contact to Customs and USDA officials. All baggage is subject to inspection;

* Sending a team of 40 federal, state and university officials to the European Union to monitor, evaluate and assist in containment efforts;

* Heightened alert at ports of entry and airports to ensure passengers, luggage and cargo are checked as appropriate. This includes placing additional inspectors and dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers;

* Heightened alert and coordination with state agriculture officials and other USDA officials; and

* Public education campaign that includes additional signs in airports, public service announcements, information hotline and Web site to inform the public about steps they can take to prevent it from entering the United States.

About the disease.

FMD is a highly contagious and economically devastating disease of ruminants and swine. The United States has been free of FMD since 1929.

FMD is one of the animal diseases that livestock owners dread most because it spreads widely and rapidly and because it has grave economic consequences. Humans are not susceptible to the disease.

Current information on foot-and-mouth disease and traveler questions and answers are available on the Internet at www.usda.gov.

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USDA creates foot-and-mouth disease call line

WASHINGTON – The USDA has established a toll-free telephone center – 1-800-601-9327 – to respond to questions regarding the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe.

The phone center is staffed by veterinarians and import/export experts from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who can explain the restrictions and regulations impacting people and products arriving at U.S. ports-of-entry from foot-and-mouth disease affected countries.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle and swine. It also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants.

* * *

Travelers can help prevent U.S. outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Most Americans have read about the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that is currently devastating the animal agriculture industry around the globe. But they may think this viral disease has nothing to do with them.

Actually, if their plans include travel to the United Kingdom and Europe in the coming months, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The U.S. government has regulatory strategies in place that have kept this country free of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929,” said Will Hueston, associate dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s University of Maryland campus.

“However,” he adds, “given today’s global economy and the frequency of travel between the United States and the United Kingdom, the possibility of trans-Atlantic transportation of the virus exists.”

So what can American travelers – especially those who live in a rural or agricultural area – do to avoid carrying home a virus that could cost billions of dollars in lost agricultural production and trade?

Robert Heckert, former chief of foreign animal disease diagnosis for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, urges following a couple of simple precautions.

Follow rules.

First, follow established USDA regulations that prohibit travelers from bringing meats, meat products, cheeses, plants and various other potentially hazardous products into the United States. Airlines provide complete information on these restrictions to passengers.

You might think everyone already obeys these rules, but you’d be wrong. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service sampled 20,515 passengers traveling to the United States from the United Kingdom in 1999 as part of its Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Monitoring program.

Of these passengers, 462 were carrying potentially hazardous items, such as meat, cheese, or hides, with them. Twenty-two of these individuals reported plans to visit or work on a farm or ranch while in the United States.

“That’s a very small percentage of travelers,” Hueston said, “but all it takes is one person to start an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.”

Avoid rural areas.

Second, if you travel to the United Kingdom, avoid rural areas. Many parts of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are already off limits to locals and tourists alike as part of an effort to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

If you do visit the countryside, take an inexpensive pair of shoes with you that you can leave behind before you fly home. The foot-and-mouth disease virus can survive in dry fecal material for 14 days in the summer, which means you could inadvertently track home the disease.

Limit the clothes you wear on or near farms to one or two outfits that you can launder before your return flight or leave behind. If neither of these options is possible, launder or dry clean your clothes as soon as you return home.

And most importantly, said Heckert, avoid contact with susceptible animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats, for at least seven days.

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