By Rose Stoneberg
For The Courier 

Foot and Mouth Disease-FMD


FMD is a very contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals, wild and domestic. It causes high fever, lameness so severe the animal often refuses to stand, severe slobbering, and refusal of food. Most animals recover after an outbreak, but the disease can lead to permanently unhealthy individuals. The viral strain involved and the species sickened causes wide variations in signs of the initial disease and the lingering after effects. Just like the annual debate about which flu strain will be prevalent this winter, the disease strain can vary.

The United States (US) wants free trade. Soon we will begin importing fresh and frozen beef from Argentina and Brazil. That meat may carry live FMD virus as those countries have endemic FMD and attempt to control it through vaccination. Such importation was never allowed before. At a Montana (MT) veterinary meeting, I was told that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) now plans to attempt vaccination of domestic animals when FMD is introduced, rather than eradication of FMD as was previously mandated. I was told I should write the USDA. I already had - my letter was not acknowledged. I also attempted to phone but the good Dr. K. is away from her desk, and she does not return phone calls from Podunk MT. The USDA ignores its own knowledgeable advisors, such as Gilles Stockton, so their reluctance to even discuss the issue should not be a surprise. My county agent friend contacted the scientist planning the emergency response to FMD introduction. When wildlife was mentioned, the scientist said there was no money for wildlife plans. The sad fact is that wildlife will be sickened and will spread the virus. Feral hogs are in about 40 of our states and they know no boundaries, to say nothing of all of our cloven hoofed wild ruminants. I, for one, like to see the healthy deer, elk, antelope, moose, and bighorn sheep in our area. I believe the Fort Peck tribal members can tell you what it was like to have chronically lame bison (fire, not FMD, but the same effect). Increased winter kill due to unthrifty survivors of FMD is not a desirable option either.

I decided to call wildlife/conservation/environmental organizations. First, an answering machine tells you how to contribute to the organization. When I connected with a real person, no one seemed to understand that there was a problem. The World Wildlife Fund supports protecting ranch livestock from FMD because ranch families are excellent stewards of our wild lands. If possible, I asked to speak to someone familiar with wildlife diseases. I was connected to a zoo veterinarian. He seemed totally confused and flat told me that the USDA would never allow a harmful disease to be imported. This was the same time that they discovered porcine epidemic disease (PED) virus had been imported in swine feed from China! This man was a fellow veterinarian and his organization included wildlife and conservation in its name. However, we were absolutely not on the same page! I said, “I guess this won’t affect you-you can vaccinate your zoo animals.” That brought a burst of enthusiasm—“Oh, yes!” he said. I imagine he gets paid pretty well for vaccinating giraffes and rare ruminants.

I did manage to talk to a real person on most of that list. I am also proud to say the only person who understood the problem was “Tom” from the MT Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He said he had no idea that fresh and frozen meat was infective. He knew that thousands of deer were killed and buried (my reference says 22,000 head) with cattle in the last US outbreak in California. He thought he would contact some other organizations.

I guess that FMD will never qualify as an icon, a romantic symbol, cute and cuddly, wild and free, a save-it-to-burn project, or any of the other great “scientific” fundraiser possibilities. However, I am going to feel free to raise my hand and question the sincerity of some conservation and save-our-wildlife statements and ask, “Do you really care?” FMD facts can be checked on the internet, after all. You don’t have to believe anything someone tells you on the phone!

Rose Stoneberg, D.V.M.

Hinsdale MT


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