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Livestock Plague

A background report on the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Europe.

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    In France, government officials destroyed and then burned more than 100 cattle at risk for foot-and-mouth disease. Yesterday's grim scene was the first confirmation that the disease had spread from the British Isles to continental Europe. And it prompted U.S. officials to act to keep the disease out of the United States. The Department of Agriculture banned — at least temporarily– live animals, all fresh meat and bone and organ products imported from all 15 member-countries of the European Union.

    ANN VENEMAN, Secretary of Agriculture: This is a disease that devastates livestock herds. And we want to take every precaution that we can to keep it out of this country. We haven't had it here since 1929.


    At a press conference today, the USDA issued warnings for travelers headed to Europe and planning to return to the United States.


    First of all they should avoid farms… barns, stockyards, animal laboratories, packing houses, zoos, fairs or other animal facilities for at least five days prior to travel. Before leaving the United Kingdom, they ought to launder or dry clean all their clothing and outerwear. All dirt and soil should be removed from shoes. And finally, they need to avoid all contact with livestock or wildlife for five days after arrival into the United States.


    The disease is called foot-and-mouth because it causes fever and blistering around the hooves and mouths of animals. It rarely affects humans, even if they eat infected meat or dairy products. While the illness is often fatal, many adult animals can recover from it, but it leaves them seriously debilitated.

    The disease leads to a loss of weight and milk production, depressing the animal's market value after farmers have invested heavily in raising an animal to maturity. The French government has announced plans to destroy another 50,000 animals and barred exports of any animals at risk for the disease for the next 15 days. The foot-and-mouth outbreak began nearly a month ago in England.

    The disease then spread through the British Isles. Since then, more than 200,000 livestock in the country, including cows, pigs and sheep, have either been destroyed or earmarked for slaughter. There have been more than 200 confirmed cases reported in Britain, affecting roughly 400 farms.

    To prevent the spread of foot and mouth, government officials have been disinfecting people by spraying their shoes and their automobiles. The timing of the outbreak was especially destructive for British farmers. Many have had to cope with the recent fallout of mad cow disease, or BSE, which can affect humans. Mad cow has cost about 4,000 farmers their jobs in the last two years.

  • TONY BLAIR, British Prime Minister:

    I can well understand the deep feelings of anxiety, indeed fear, in our farming community today. Coming on top of the problems of BSE and the collapse… world commodity prices for farm produce, foot-and-mouth disease is a bitter and unfair blow to the farmers.


    The British government estimates the outbreak of foot-and-mouth is costing $100 million a week and has affected many sectors of the economy — from restaurants to tourism to farming.

    LAURENCE MATTHEWS, British beef farmer: Cash flow's not good at the moment. Farming's not in a good state of affairs at all, and we need cash coming in every week so I can pay my employees and all the other costs I have. And at the moment that's all stopped.


    And there may be political fallout from the disease, too. British farmers called on the government to delay nationwide elections scheduled for early May because moving around the country is so complicated.

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