The Public Confuses Livestock Diseases

Tuesday, March 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -Americans are confusing foot-and-mouth disease, which is harmless to people, with rarer mad cow disease, which has been linked to a fatal human illness, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Tuesday.

However, she said there is no evidence that the confusion has caused U.S. consumers to shun meat.

``They're hearing animal disease and they don't know the difference,'' Veneman said. ``We're trying to make sure that people understand that there is a difference.

Foot-and-mouth is primarily an economic issue. An outbreak virtually shuts down a country's meat exports, and the virus spreads so quickly that the only sure way to contain it is to destroy all exposed livestock.

Mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is less well understood by scientists and is linked to a brain-wasting illness in humans called variant Creutzfeld Jacob disease. BSE is believed to be transmitted through feeding animal parts to cattle. So far, the illness has been limited to Europe.

Veneman, speaking to a breakfast gathering of grocers, said Europe's foot-and-mouth epidemic has raised public awareness about her department's efforts to control the entry of agricultural pests and diseases.

Customs forms that travelers must fill out before arriving at U.S. airports require passengers to disclose whether they have been on a farm. Those passengers are then questioned by USDA inspectors, who are supposed to disinfect any soiled footwear the travelers have with them.

``Seeing all these pictures about what is happening in Europe has given a view of why it is so important that we have these programs,'' Veneman said.

Veneman is under pressure from Europe to partially lift a ban on all imports of livestock and raw meat, and she is expected to discuss the issue Wednesday with European Union Commissioner David Byrne.

``We're continuing to review that,'' she told news reporters. ``I'm not prepared today to say when we might or might not do that.''

The biggest impact of the ban has been on imports of Danish pork ribs, a popular menu item in many U.S. restaurants.