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The Daily Tar Heel

Foot-and-Mouth Poses Threat to N.C. Hog Industry

In England, large numbers of livestock have been slaughtered and then burned to control the epidemic - but the disease is still running rampant and has spread to mainland Europe and several other parts of the world.

Jerry Hostetter, vice president of corporate communications for North Carolina-based Smithfield Foods, the country's largest pork producer, said the disease's contagious nature poses a threat to the state's livestock. "(Foot-and-mouth disease) is critically important because if it affected our livestock, it would be economically devastating."

State Veterinarian David Marshall said if foot-and-mouth disease struck North Carolina, the results would hit the state hard. "If it does (come to the United States), damage would be in the billions of dollars," he said.

Foot-and-mouth is a contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine and sheep.

The disease spreads easily from animal to animal on crowded farms and is wind-borne, traveling long distances to carry the disease to distant farms.

Once exposed to the virus, livestock lose weight and dairy animals suffer reduced milk production. There is no effective treatment for the virus, which can result in death.

Although humans cannot become sick with foot-and-mouth disease, they can carry the virus.

Hostetter said Smithfield Foods is taking precautions to safeguard against the disease.

Academic groups and visitors previously enjoyed relatively free access to the hog farms. Hostetter said visitor access has now been restricted.

He added that employees who travel abroad to inspect foreign products are quarantined for a month at desk jobs and are not allowed contact with the hogs.

Marshall said North Carolina is prepared if an outbreak were to occur. Buffer zones, quarantine and vaccinations are current prevention methods in place.

"We think the USDA has a well- thought emergency plan," he said. "We could limit the outbreak to the point where it can be controlled."

And this cloud does have a silver lining for hog producers. Because the United States has banned the importation of foreign meat, only domestic products will be put on the market.

Hostetter said the restriction on foreign sales will be an economic boost for the domestic meat market and Smithfield Foods. "It's a positive influence because it would be less supply and increase the sale of pork in this country."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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