Skip to main content /US /US

U.S. wages war on foot-mouth disease

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an educational campaign Wednesday to inform travelers about foot-and-mouth disease after the virus was found to have spread to the European mainland from Britain.

"Informed travelers are our best ally," said Craig Reid of the USDA, a day after the agency announced a temporary ban on the importation of certain animal products from the European Union and Argentina.

The ban primarily applies to pork products -- such as specialty sausage and hams -- as well as unpasteurized milk products. The United States has not imported beef from Europe since a foot-and-mouth outbreak there in the late 1980s, and further restrictions were placed on beef from the European Union several years ago because of mad cow disease.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports on why the U.S. has banned nearly all European Union animal products

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

The new USDA ban also prohibits the import of beef from Argentina, after a case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed there.

There are some exceptions to the ban, including pate, which can be imported if it is hermetically sealed. Other hermetically sealed or shelf-stable items are also acceptable, as are butter and hard cheese. Most soft cheeses from abroad were already banned for import to the United States.

Six cows in France tested positive for foot-and-mouth disease Tuesday, the first confirmed cases on the European continent since the outbreak in Britain. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is warning of a global threat from the disease. The United States has not had a case since 1929.

The disease does not affect humans, though humans can transmit it.

USDA officials said its ban would not have a large impact on U.S. meat supplies. With pork, for example, imports from the European Union amount to just 1 percent of total U.S. production, officials said.

Richard Dunkle, with the USDA's animal and plant inspection service, said international travelers entering the United States must take steps to rid themselves of the virus. The agency is distributing public service announcements giving travelers the message, "Don't pack a pest."

"Many passengers entering the U.S. don't realize that even one piece of fruit or a meat product in a suitcase has the potential to cause vast damage to U.S. agriculture," he said.

"Because this virus is spread very fast in the farms, and because of the grave economic consequences that it has, it's one of the livestock diseases that we dread the most," said the USDA's Alphonso Torres.

The virus can be killed off by heat, low humidity, or some disinfectants.

Dunkle recommended travelers wipe their shoes and personal items -- including watches, CD players, laptops and phones -- with a bleach solution. He advised washing or dry-cleaning all clothes and outerwear before arrival in the United States.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the United States already has boosted the surveillance measures it had in place.

"We are stepping up our efforts now at the airports and asking that anybody who's traveling internationally be aware of the situation so that they won't inadvertently bring something into this country that could cause devastation to our agriculture industry," she told CNN.

About 1,800 USDA inspectors are assigned to 90 points of entry to the United States, Dunkle said, and 100 others will be temporarily assigned to help them monitor and inspect incoming travelers.

Infected animals can lose weight and stop milk production, decreasing their economic value.

The disease is only rarely fatal, though it is more dangerous to very young animals. It usually runs its course in two to three weeks with most animals recovering, though some take as long as six months to recover fully.

There is no cure for the disease. Vaccines exist but are rarely useful, Torres said.

"Countries have determined that the cost-benefit ratio of vaccinating versus not vaccinating animals and dealing with an outbreak is in favor of not vaccinating and dealing with the outbreak whenever it comes," he said.

Even vaccinating does not prevent the spread of the disease, he said. "You are preventing clinical manifestations in the animals, and trade implications are the same if you vaccinate or if you don't," he said.

U.S. bans EU meat imports
March 13, 2001
Foot-and-mouth hits France
March 13, 2001
Virus hits UK tourism
March 12, 2001
Foot-and-mouth hits new high
March 11, 2001
Foot-and-mouth spread fears
March 10, 2001
'New wave' of foot-and-mouth
March 9, 2001
EU battles foot-and-mouth spread
March 6, 2001

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Foot-and-mouth disease
French Government
UK National Farmers' Union
UK Ministry of Agriculture
European Union: Agriculture policies
World Organisation for Animal Health
British Tourist Authority

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top