BWI fights farm illness

Foot-and-mouth outbreak in Europe prompts checks

`We want to keep it out'

Disinfection effort, seizure of meats, fine part of plan

March 16, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

As a seasoned traveler, Ramoni Akorede knows not to bring fresh meat with him while flying back to Baltimore after an international trip - especially because of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain.

"No way, you can't bring that in," the Baltimore resident said. "They'll take that from you."

He's right. Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as with airports nationally, has stepped up security measures to prevent foot-and-mouth disease from spreading to the United States. BWI requires travelers from infected countries to surrender fresh beef or swine and may disinfect their shoes with bleach if they've visited a farm overseas.

"We're pretty busy with this foot-and-mouth disease," said David Root, a U.S. Department of Agriculture officer who works at BWI. "We're pretty concerned; we want to keep it out."

Akorede had no problems passing through customs yesterday afternoon after arriving on a British Airways flight from London, where he had a six-hour layover on his trip from Nigeria.

His friend, Steve Nwankwo, also of Baltimore, had the contents of his suitcase inspected by USDA officers after telling them he brought dried fish from Nigeria.

Had Nwankwo brought in fresh meat, it would have been confiscated, placed in the USDA's bright yellow trashcans and taken to an incinerator to be destroyed.

The heightened security at airports across the country follows the USDA's announcement Tuesday temporarily banning importation of live swine and beef and those fresh meats from the European Union because of a confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease in France.

The highly contagious disease, now a month-old epidemic in Britain, can spread rapidly to hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep or pigs, crippling farms and the livestock market.

It can lead to a loss of production in milk and meat by causing blister-like lesions on the animals' lips and hooves, leaving them debilitated.

When international travelers from the European Union, United Kingdom or Northern Ireland deplane at BWI, they are asked if they have brought in meat or visited a farm while overseas. Luggage is also X-rayed for meat.

If travelers are caught lying about carrying meat, they could be fined up to $1,000, said Sanquanett Williams, USDA director for the Port of Baltimore, adding that they are given ample opportunity to declare the contraband.

"We're putting the port on alert to ensure that passengers and luggage and cargo are being checked appropriately," she said.

If travelers have been on a farm at one of the infected countries, their shoes will be inspected for soil and manure and washed with bleach in an effort to kill the virus.

But no travelers at BWI have had their shoes bleached.

"If you've been on a farm there's a possibility that the soil could remain on the shoes ... there's a possibility that disease can be transported from one farm to another," said Kimberley Smith, a USDA spokeswoman.

Humans are not susceptible to the disease, which the United States has been free of since 1929, but can carry the virus on their body, clothes or items.

The USDA recommends that travelers in infected countries avoid farms, stockyards, zoos or animal laboratories five days before traveling to the United States. They should wash their clothing and remove dirt from shoes with bleach before traveling and not have contact with livestock for five days after arriving in the United States.

"Our goal is to protect American agriculture," said Smith.

"And we're doing everything that we can to try and prevent foot-and-mouth disease from coming into the U.S."

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