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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2001

Local farmers voice little fear of cases of foot-mouth disease

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Local farmers appear more hopeful that Britain's problems with foot-and-mouth disease might raise prices for their products than they are fearful that the devastating livestock disease might spread to the United States.

“I think it's always a threat, but I don't see anybody real worried about it over here just yet,” said Kendall Murphy, a livestock buyer at United Producers, Inc., in Archbold.

Tim Stutzman, who sells 3,000 head of cattle a year through Raymond & Stutzman Farms, LLC, in Lenawee County, Michigan, said he feels safe because of his trust in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The department is more diligent than the agriculture officials of many countries, he said. Most U.S. farmers are better educated about animal health issues and might be quicker to notice and act on problems than some farmers in parts of the world where the disease is a recurring issue, he added.

Futures prices for hogs were up sharply early yesterday in a move some analysts attributed to the disease that has been found on 70 farms in Britain and Northern Ireland in the last two weeks. Some buyers apparently feared that the disease might cause the destruction of enough animals that world supplies might be affected.

The United States has not had a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak since 1929, and that was confined to California. The last time foot-and-mouth disease was close to this area is thought to be 1914, when 22 states and the District of Columbia were affected.

A vaccination for the disease is available, but administering it to all the susceptible animals in the United States would cost $1 billion - a decidedly uneconomical proposition because the disease has not been found in the country in 87 years, said Rick McCarty, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Foot-and-mouth disease doesn't usually kill animals. But it causes blisters in their mouths and soft tissue of their feet, making it uncomfortable for them to stand or eat. They lose weight and pregnancies, and they go through a decline in health from which it takes a year to recover. Most animals aren't worth the risk to neighboring livestock and are killed on the farm.

The disease is so highly infectious that it can spread 150 miles by air. It can be passed through raw meat. It can persist on clothing for 10 to 12 weeks. People are not affected by the disease but can pass it on to animals.

“It's a very scary animal disease,” Mr. McCarty said.

The biggest risk to local farmers is probably from air travel, said Dr. Mike Chaddock, Michigan state veterinarian.

Every day, two passenger flights from London land at Detroit Metropolitan airport, and many more carry freight and passengers from areas where foot-and-mouth disease is a concern.

The 15 U.S. Department of Agriculture employees stationed at Metro say they have not changed their official procedures since Britain's problems have escalated.

As usual, they are washing and disinfecting noticeably dirty shoes, bicycle tires, and anything else that they think might carry soil from agricultural areas of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

They are, however, trying to be more vigilant, said David McKay, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state director in Michigan for plant protection and quarantine.

“We're more alert. How can we not be?” he said.

Not just farm animals are threatened by the disease. Zoo animals can get it too. Giraffes, kudu, and impala are among the animals at the Toledo Zoo that are susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease. It affects only animals with cloven, or split, hoofs.

For years, quarantining of new animals has been zoo policy, and the zoo has not taken any additional safety precautions in recent weeks.

“I guess at this point there's not much more we can do,” said Wynona Shellabarger, a veterinarian at the zoo.



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