Edwin Bromley isn't concerned about a foot-and-mouth epidemic wiping out his cattle, but every morning he checks his herd for symptoms of any sickness.
The 70-year-old Hephzibah resident has raised cows for more than 20 years on his 192-acre farm on Farmers Bridge Road. If a disease were to contaminate his stock, Mr. Bromley said the emotional damage would far outweigh any financial concerns.
"I'd hate to get rid of them because everything I got here I've raised," he said. "I've got some down there that I've bottled fed since the time they were born to now."
The threat of a possible outbreak is real.
Officials in Saudi Arabia confirmed 400 cases of foot-and-mouth disease, a contagious airborne virus that has destroyed cattle in Europe, South America and Australia.
No cases have been reported in the United States, and authorities are taking every precaution to prevent the disease from entering the country, said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said.
Mr. Irvin will travel to Brussels, Belgium, on Friday to discuss the situation in Europe, and will meet with officials in London on March 26.
He talked about the concerns surrounding foot-and-mouth disease at a luncheon held Monday by the Augusta Rotary Club.
"(Georgia) is kind of a suspect area for the U.S., because we are a point of arrival," Mr. Irvin said. "We got the ports in Savannah and Brunswick, as well as Atlanta airport, which handles all kinds of international flights."
Now it's up to inspectors.
"Inspectors are checking the imports from transatlantic flights and the ports because we don't want (an outbreak) to happen."
The ailment poses no threat to humans but causes sickness and weight loss in herds of cloven-hooved animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. The symptoms are visible sores around the nose or mouth of an animal and swelling in the its hooves.
In the four weeks since the first case was confirmed near London, nearly 300,000 animals have been slaughtered or marked for destruction, according to the Associated Press. That is about two-thirds of the number of animals killed in Britain during a 1967 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The government announced last week that it planned to destroy all sheep and pigs within two miles of any confirmed outbreak in Cumbria and southern Scotland, where many of the cases are concentrated. Animals that had come in contact with any animal that passed through markets known to have the infection were also marked for destruction.
Mr. Irvin warned people to be cautious when traveling overseas.
"If you're going to be traveling abroad in the near future, make sure you don't bring in any prevented products from foreign sources," he said. "You need to wash your garments, and disinfect your shoes if you've been on a farm. If it comes to the U.S., we'll be the taxi for the disease."
Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339.
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