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The Effects of Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Friday, July 13, 2001 at 7:22 AM

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The sight of gaunt cattle, wasting away on British farmlands presented a disturbing sight for American TV viewers this past February. So far, no instances of Foot-and-Mouth or "Mad Cow" disease have shown up in Ohio. 90.3 WCPN's David C. Barnett reports on efforts keep it that way.

David C. Barnett- The new baby blinks at the crowd gathered around her.

Albert Lewandowski- Did we name him, yet? No, he doesn’t even have a number, yet. We have registration number for all our animals… A little baby boy at… what… a 187?

DCB- Actually, that’s a little on the heavy side for a baby… giraffe, according to the Cleveland Zoo’s Chief Veterinarian, Albert Lewandowski. Just a week old, the youngster already measures six feet, from the top of his head down to his cloven hooves. And those hooves also mean he is susceptible to Foot-and-Mouth disease - an ancient virus that recently ran through thousands of cattle in Great Britain and parts of Europe.

An animal with foot-and-mouth develops blisters on the hoof and in the mouth. The blisters themselves aren’t deadly, but very painful, prompting a loss of appetite and subsequent malnutrition.. As Lewandowski walks us through the Zoo’s barns, he notes that hoof-and-mouth poses no immediate threat to humans, but humans can be unwitting carriers of the disease.

AL- We’re more worried about travelers, people who have been overseas to Europe, to Great Britain, and down into South America, who may have been visiting areas where there are a lot of livestock. Because they can pick it up on their clothes,on their shoes, and people can carry it in their respiratory system for up to five days. With travel the way it is these days, where you can get to England in 6 to 8 hours, the possibility of bringing something that with you is possible.

DCB- Ned Cunningham got a chance to see the devastation of foot-and-mouth up close. He’s a veterinary specialist working for the Ohio Department of Agriculture and recently was part of a team of American medical officials who went over to help the British contain the outbreak. That meant helping kill infected farm animals.

Ned Cunningham- I knew what I was getting into, but it’s a situation where looking at pictures, and really being involved in the process, is two different things. Initially, it was heart-rending because you are going in and eliminating the wherewithal for these producers that were - that was their life, you know?

DCB- Cunningham reported on his experiences at a recent seminar attended by health officials from across Northeast Ohio. His goal was to clear up the differences between Foot-and-Mouth and another cattle disease that’s been in the news - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, better known as ‘Mad Cow Disease’. Cleveland Zoo Vet Albert Lewandowski says the origins of “mad cow” are unclear, but the virus is likely transferred through tainted livestock feed - livestock feed that, ironically, has been tainted by the remains of other livestock.

AL- In order to build-up the protein levels in the livestock feed, these meat scraps, and brains, and intestines - things that we don’t normally eat - these things are rendered and cooked down, and then made into a meat meal and a bone meal. And then these are processed and fed back to swine and cattle and so forth. And that’s where the problem lies.

DCB- This process of recycling animal parts into livestock feed is an old practice - and a successful one, until mad cow disease was discovered in Great Britain in the late 80s. By that time, the tainted feed was already in distribution around the world.

Though no cases of “mad cow” or hoof-and-mouth have been found in Ohio, local livestock owners still need to keep their guard up.

Jeff Polcen- What happened in England is just the tip of the iceberg if it got over here in the States.

DCB- Jeff Polcen owns a small herd of dairy cattle in Sagamore Hills. And he says he doesn’t even touch the controversial recycled cattle feed.

JP- All our stuff is plant protein - soybean meal, alfalfa meal. With the proper quality control, you can make it work. But, it’s got to happen all down the line. Even though you get the food from the supplier, and it’s fine,but if you don’t store it right, rotate it, or keep it dry, it’ll make those cows as sick as if they’d gotten a contaminated batch from the feed mill.

AL- This little guy was born late Friday afternoon.

DCB- The Cleveland Zoo’s bouncing baby giraffe has more of a taste for mother’s milk than cattle feed these days. But, he’s been born into a new world where you can’t take anything for granted. A new world made smaller by the international travel of people and animals, and possibly… diseases. In Cleveland, David C. Barnett, 90.3 WCPN News.

Additional Information

* Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy ("Mad Cow" Disease)
* Ohio Department of Agriculture

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