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Veterinarians, public safety responders take part in drill to contain animal disease outbreak

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 4:48 p.m. MDT

State leaders from Utah and Idaho are training this week on how to handle major biological disasters in livestock. In Wellsville, Cache County, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012.

Mike Anderson, Deseret News

WELLSVILLE, Cache County — A simple cow disease could cause big problems for the whole country.

That’s why veterinarians and public safety responders from Utah and Idaho are training this week on how to handle major biological disasters focused not on people, but on livestock.

They want to quickly identify a foreign animal disease and contain it with the goal of preventing it from spreading to other livestock and entering the food system.

In a simulated exercise, Utah’s chief veterinarian Bruce King and other veterinarians have been testing cows for foot and mouth disease by taking samples from animals that could be infected. The disease is highly infectious. Any infected animals would have to be destroyed. Lucky, there hasn't been a case of the disease in the U.S. since 1929.

King organized a three-day drill to make sure first-responders along the Utah-Idaho border will be ready. Idaho state police were also checking for livestock crossing their border Wednesday. During an agricultural disaster, traffic could even become closed off at state and county lines.

"It's not just a disaster for agriculture," King said. "We'd have to shut down the whole valley.”

While rare, King said disasters like this do happen. Containing the disease quickly would be crucial. Foot and mouth disease struck livestock in England back in 2001. About 6 million animals had to be euthanized during that outbreak.

Foreign animal diseases, such as mad cow and foot and mouth disease, could damage consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply and lead to costly trade embargoes by foreign countries.

"In meeting with these guys," said Cache County Sheriff G. Lynn Nelson. "It's been obvious that the potential can be horrific and widespread."

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