U.S. expands import ban after livestock disease spreads to France

Wednesday, March 14th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. ban on imports of livestock and fresh meat was expanded to all 15 countries of the European Union after a case of foot-and-mouth disease was found on a farm in France.

The ban, which also applies to unpasteurized dairy products, would have the biggest impact on imports of pork from the Netherlands and Denmark. Imports of beef from the European Union already were banned because of mad cow disease.

``We want to make sure we're taking the appropriate steps to make sure it doesn't cross the ocean by means of our ports or travelers,'' said USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz, adding that ``if foot-and-mouth disease were to enter the United States, the cost is in the billions.''

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the ban should present few problems for U.S. consumers. ``It is unlikely we will see any price impact at all (because) most of the products that we have are produced here domestically,'' she said Wednesday on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

The United States suspended all meat and animal imports from Britain on Feb. 21 and ordered stepped-up checks of travelers arriving from the United Kingdom. Airline passengers who have visited the British countryside are required to have their shoes disinfected if they appear soiled.

Now, travelers from the European Union also may be subject to additional scrutiny, including disinfection of their footwear if they have been on a farm.

The European Union expressed surprise that the U.S. import ban extended to all 15 member countries. ``Thirteen EU states are disease-free. We have measures in place to keep it that way,'' spokeswoman Maeve O'Beirne said.

But Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised USDA's action.

``Right now we just don't know how far this disease has spread,'' said Harkin, whose state is a top hog producer. ``It is common sense to take protective measures.''

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., last week urged the Bush administration to block imports of livestock from anywhere in the world, including Canada, until the department assessed the adequacy of its controls for foot-and-mouth disease.

Foot-and-mouth disease is not harmful to humans, but it spreads so quickly that entire herds and flocks must be destroyed to contain it. The virus can be transmitted by footwear and motor vehicles.

French officials said Tuesday that the disease was found in cattle on a farm that had earlier imported sheep from Britain.

In addition to the ban on shipments from the European Union, USDA said it was sending a team of 40 federal, state and university experts to Europe to monitor and assist in the efforts to contain the disease.

The department said it also will increase its public education efforts in the United States by installing more signs in airports, sponsoring public service announcements and providing a telephone hot line for information.

The appearance of foot-and-mouth in France sent soybean and corn prices tumbling on the Chicago Board of Trade because of fears that the disease could lead to wholesale slaughtering of hogs in Europe, depressing markets for feed ingredients. Soybean prices lost 1 percent of their value.

The European Union estimated the import restrictions would affect $500 million worth of annual sales in meat and livestock. The United States estimated the impact at less than $400 million.

Chuck Lambert, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the department was acting properly.

``As conditions change, they've adapted their monitoring and surveillance,'' he said.


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