The news of thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs being destroyed in the United Kingdom gives Coloradans some insight on how devastating a large outbreak of foot and mouth disease could be to the American farm and food industry, as well as to tourism and recreation industries.
Among several risks to the United State’s foot and mouth disease-free status are food items brought in by people returning from or visiting from a foreign country. A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension expert has some advice about how to keep foot and mouth disease out of the United States.
"Travelers need to be particularly cautious for the next several months so they don’t play a role in spreading the disease to the United States," said Pat Kendall, Colorado State Cooperative Extension food safety specialist. "Although humans can’t get sick from foot and mouth disease, even if they eat food that is carrying the virus, they can easily spread the virus that causes it. Food carrying the virus, for example, is a common instigator of an outbreak."
Humans can not catch foot and mouth disease, but they can mistakenly spread the disease very easily to animals through exposed food or on their clothing, shoes, vehicles, suitcases and other belongings. Food products – meat and dairy items – derived from an animal that has foot and mouth disease carries the virus for months. The virus also can survive and travel on almost anything – shoe soles, car tires, pant cuffs, pets – for several weeks.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the virus can remain in the human nasal passage for as long as 28 hours and be spread to animals in close contact.
"Sometimes it may seem complicated to declare food and dairy products to customs officials at airports,"said Kendall. "But protecting America’s economy and animal population from the impacts of this highly contagious animals diseases is one valid reason why that requirement is in place."
"The virus can also be carried in uncooked or under-processed meat, fat and dairy products," said Kendall.
The transport of food across national boarders, even if it is just some cheese or fruit tucked in a suitcase, is regulated by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA regulations have been stepped up recently in light of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in Europe. These regulations are part of a USDA plan designed to quickly identify and contain any foot and mouth disease outbreak – or risk of one – in America.
"These precautions include a temporary restriction on importing all livestock and swine and their products from the European Union member countries and Argentina," said Kendall. "That includes items such as meat; untanned hides and skins; raw wool and milk.
"People coming into the United States are prohibited from bringing some of these food items with them, and other items must meet certain regulations," said Kendall.
Some USDA bans of food and livestock coming from Europe have been in place for sometime to protect American Consumers from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a much different livestock disease than foot and mouth. Other measures taken by the USDA include stepped-up inspection and disinfection of incoming international travelers at airports, increased cleaning and disinfection of military vehicles and farm equipment prior to entry to the U.S. and a temporary prohibition on the importation of used farm equipment from all countries effected by foot and mouth disease.
Foot and mouth affects livestock, swine and other animals with a cloven hoof including deer, elk, goats and sheep. It causes physical blisters or sores in the mouth and on the feet of infected animals. When the blisters erupt, the animals spread the virus, which can be carried by air currents for up to 40 miles.
For more information about food bans, contact the USDA office in your area or go to the USDA Web site at www.usda.gov.