The following statement was issued by Tommy Irvin, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture:

“Last year when I planned my visit to our department’s international office in Brussels and to promote Georgia agricultural products at Great Britain’s largest food show, there was not even a hint of a cloud of foot-and- mouth disease on the horizon in Europe. Before I headed across the Atlantic, an ominous cloud of disease had engulfed all of Great Britain and other countries. I saw the pits where animals were being buried and heard the stories of despair. I listened to the struggles and recommendations of British officials dealing with this crisis.

“Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is something we must all do our part to prevent from coming to the United States. This highly contagious viral disease affects all cloven-hoofed livestock including pigs, sheep, cows and goats as well as wildlife such as deer and bison. An outbreak of FMD here would be devastating.

“One line of defense against FMD involves travelers returning from Britain and other areas where the disease is present. Airlines are reminding passengers not to bring any food off the plane. They are also informing passengers who have been on a farm or visited in a rural area that they need to declare this when coming through customs. Our airports have posted signs and are making announcements warning arriving passengers about foot-and-mouth disease. The highly trained Beagle Brigade is working hard as ever sniffing out meat, cheese, and other contraband items. Any soiled footwear will be cleaned and disinfected. Although this may inconvenience a few incoming passengers, these precautions are critical to save the lives of millions of animals as well as the livelihoods of thousands of farmers.

“Great Britain health officials told me that feeding swill (garbage) from foreign sources to swine likely caused the current epidemic there. I have written United States department of agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and spoken with my fellow state commissioners of agriculture urging them to ban the feeding of garbage to swine. I also made the same recommendation to British officials. Garbage feeding has been illegal in Georgia since 1971. We saw the need to end the practice at that time as part of our efforts to eradicate hog cholera. The outbreak in Great Britain is further evidence that we made the right decision 30 years ago.

“Last week USDA banned the importation of used farm equipment from FMD countries. Debris, manure or soil that remain on the machines could harbor the FMD virus.

“Although the U.S. has not had an outbreak of FMD since 1929, we have been alerting personnel in our livestock markets and slaughterhouses to watch for signs of FMD. Veterinarians and inspection personnel are an important line of defense against the disease. Veterinary practitioners visiting farms will be looking for signs of any FMD lesions. Any suspected disease is to be reported immediately to agriculture officials. In Britain I learned that the disease was present for at least 17 days before it was reported to officials. This lag time allowed infected animals to be transported to other parts of the country, spreading the disease wherever they went. If FMD were to enter the U.S., we trust our network of accredited veterinarians and inspectors would allow quick diagnosis and immediate quarantine and elimination of the affected animals.

“In the coming months USDA will be dispatching teams of experts, including federal, state and university veterinarians to Great Britain to assist in the eradication of FMD. Veterinarians from the Georgia Department of Agriculture will be taking part in this international effort.

“I am asking Georgia livestock producers to take part in our efforts to keep FMD from becoming established in our state. I would like to advise them to be vigilant and cautious, including closing farm gates to animals of unknown origin and visitors from FMD countries unless proper precautions have been taken. It is particularly important for livestock owners to contact their veterinarians if livestock exhibit any symptoms of a foot or mouth ailment, including blister-like lesions, excessive salivation, reluctance to eat or lameness.

“Although we are developing a state emergency plan for a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, our focus now is prevention. The old proverb is more than correct when applied to foot-and-mouth disease — an ounce of prevention is worth tons of cure.”

For More Information

If you are traveling overseas and have questions about what you can bring back, you can call the United States Department of Agriculture’s Consumer/Traveler Hotline at 1-866-SAFGUARD. You can also find information and press releases on the Georgia Department of Agriculture web site at www.agr.state.ga.us.