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Foot-mouth fear in state

Arizona tightens efforts to block disease

Paul Matthews
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 18, 2001

Cattle feedlots are restricting visitors and federal authorities are boosting staff at Sky Harbor International Airport as Arizona tries to keep the dreaded foot-and-mouth disease out of the state.

The United States Department of Agriculture has boosted its staff at Sky Harbor in Phoenix to eight from three and will soon be adding six more inspectors to question visitors and examine luggage arriving daily from London via British Airways, said Manny Trujillo, acting plant health director for the USDA in Arizona.

Inspectors X-ray baggage, inspect hiking shoes and disinfect the shoes and boots of everyone who acknowledges they have been on a farm in England.

"If we take care of their shoes, and with the quarantine measures implemented in the United Kingdom, we're pretty confident that this will keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the United States," Trujillo said.

The most recent outbreak of the dreaded livestock disease surfaced near London on Feb. 21 and has since spread throughout Britain and into France. Britain is slaughtering up to 1 million goats, sheep and pigs within three kilometers of infected areas. Other animals have already been slaughtered in Britain and France.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious virus that debilitates and causes blisters in cloven-hoofed animals. It is not dangerous to humans.

On Tuesday, the U.S. announced a temporary ban on fresh, chilled and frozen swine and other cloven-hoofed animals from Europe.

State officials say the chances of the disease surfacing in Arizona are slim but they're not taking any chances with Arizona's $2 billion cattle and dairy industry.

"We're pretty concerned about the disease, but the risk here is pretty minimal at this time," said Jill Davis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. "We only have one international airport, so we're sort of isolated in that sense."

Although Arizona hasn't had a case of hoof-and-mouth disease since 1928, state livestock officers are trained to recognize the symptoms. Arizona is the country's seventh-largest cattle feeding state and local feeders are taking precautions.

"We've canceled all tours and make all visitors check in," said Earl Petznick, president of the Pinal Feeding Co. which has 120,000 head of cattle on its property southeast of Maricopa.

U.S. beef producers probably won't benefit from Europe's plummeting livestock supplies because of trade restrictions between the European Community and the United States, said Chuck Lambert, chief economist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Europe bans imports of U.S. hormone-fed beef and the U.S. bans beef from Europe because of mad cow disease, Lambert said.

"We'll probably sell some extra pork to Asia, we may sell some extra beef to the Middle East, but it won't be a big windfall for the beef industry," Lambert said.

The major importers of U.S. beef - Japan, Mexico, Korea and Canada - don't import European beef, so the U.S. doesn't stand to make gains in those markets, Lambert explained.


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