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Shows must go on

May 11, 2001

Shows must go on



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area farmers are taking steps to prevent foot-and-mouth disease, but so far they aren't letting the scare cancel traditional summer fairs and livestock shows.

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Even though the virus that devastated England's livestock has not been seen in the United States since 1929, some local farmers are worried enough to limit visitors and make sure people who come to their farms aren't carrying the disease.

"Foot-and-mouth is showing its ugly head in another part of the world and we need to be mindful of that," said Boonsboro dairy farmer Craig Leggett.

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The highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease strikes hoofed animals such as cows, sheep, goats and pigs. People aren't vulnerable, but can carry the virus on their clothing.

At fairs and expos where people and animals come together, it is more difficult to stop the spread of diseases. The threat canceled Maryland Eastern Shore's annual spring livestock show.

But local fair and expo organizers say they won't be deterred unless foot-and-mouth hits the United States.

This weekend, 4-H youth will showcase their animals at the 19th annual expo at the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Fairgrounds. The event is a prelude to the August fairs and expos planned across the Tri-State area.

"We certainly are taking precautions to be careful," said organizer Don Mickey, who relied on the advice of the state veterinarian in deciding to move forward.

Likewise, fairs are expected to go on as scheduled this August in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., Jefferson County, W.Va., and Berkeley County, W.Va., organizers said.

"It is a very real concern, but we're not going to shut the industry down," said Don Schwartz, Washington County extension agent for the Maryland Cooperative Extension. "I just don't see an impact unless, heaven forbid, we do get a positive ID and then our world is going to change."

Schwartz is using the scare as an opportunity to talk about the bio-security precautions farmers should already be taking to prevent the spread of all kinds of diseases, not just foot-and-mouth.

For example, technicians or other people who travel from farm to farm should shower and change before and after each visit. People visiting the U.S. from other countries should wait five days before going on a farm.

"It is a very, very, very scary thing, especially if you're in the livestock business. It's not something to be taken lightly," said Robert Eckstine, who owns a dairy farm south of Mercersburg, Pa.

Organizers of the World Dairy Exposition discussed calling off the show, the largest of its kind, but decided to take extra security measures instead, said Ernie Kueffner of Hagerstown, who is on the board of directors.

People from 75 countries, including those exposed to the virus, are expected to attend the expo in Madison, Wis., in October.

Kueffner is used to hosting overseas visitors interested in buying the frozen cattle embryos he develops. But these days, he's a little more cautious about whom he invites to his farm and where visitors are allowed to go.

"The foreigners are cooperative and understand it very well because they see how devastating it is," he said.

Animals on more than 1,500 farms in Britain have been destroyed to contain the outbreak.

Greg Wiles of Williamsport, owner of the first cow clones produced by a commercial dairy operation, is also limiting foreign visitors.

"We're hoping everybody does their part to keep it out of this country," he said.

Tri-State area farmers don't even want to think about the consequences if foot-and-mouth disease should turn up here.

"I can't comprehend it. It'll be worse than anything this country's ever seen," Kueffner said.

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