Originally created 04/07/01

Study shows foot-and-mouth impact in California



SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In September 1999, the University of California, Davis, published a report called the "Potential Impact of Foot-And-Mouth Disease in California."

The school dutifully printed 200 copies of the 124-page document, surely a lifetime supply, to hand out among academics and others interested in the subject.

"At the time it was printed, there was no interest at all," said Sandy Fisher, an office worker at UC Davis' Agricultural Issues Center, which published the report.

That's all changed. There is now plenty of demand among agricultural and government officials, thanks to the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom and continental Europe that has put California on high alert. Now, nearly all of the copies of the report are gone.

The research project by postdoctoral fellow Javier Ekboir presents a scary scenario should the highly contagious disease surface in California.

The state's economy could take as much as a $9.3 billion hit, according to the report.

Eradication costs alone would be staggering: nearly $500 million to slaughter and dispose of hundreds of thousands of milking cows, beef cattle, sheep and pigs. In turn, government would have to compensate farmers for livestock that was destroyed.

Dairy farmers and ranchers, meanwhile, would face massive production losses that could go as high as $1.5 billion, according to the analysis.

Suppliers and buyers of milk and livestock would be affected and there would be a sharp drop in exports of beef to the state's major markets - Japan and South Korea.

The ripple effect would reach the general economy as employment and sales declined across the state.

California state officials remain confident that such a disaster won't happen here and, working with federal authorities, have stepped up inspections at international airports and border crossings with Mexico.

The agricultural industry across the state is also taking extra precautions. Dairy farms and cattle ranches, for example, now bar foreign visitors who have been in the United States for fewer than five days. With the same concerns, farm organizations in some counties holding agricultural festivals for schoolchildren have not included livestock in their exhibits.

Humans are not known to suffer ill effects from foot-and-mouth disease, but they can carry the virus, particularly on their shoes and clothing, for several days and pass it on to livestock.

"We're seeing what's going on in England and are very concerned," said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the state's Department of Food and Agriculture.

"On the other hand, we're very pleased that it's been 72 years since the last case," Lyle said. "We're optimistic we can continue to be disease-free."