KANSAS CITY (B)--The U.S. government, pork producers and travelers should not let down their guard after the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxed its ban on livestock and uncooked European Union meat from entering the country due to foot-and-mouth disease, cautioned the National Pork Producers Council.

Lifting the ban will allow mostly pork-related items to re-enter the states.

NPPC represents about 85,000 producer members and canceled its annual international pork exposition to avoid possible FMD contamination to U.S. swine herds.

Although it poses no harm to humans, foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious virus that debilitates cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine and sheep. The U.S. has been FMD-free for more than 70 years.

NPPC President Barb Determan said it is extremely important the U.S. government insist on 100% compliance for incoming meat to make sure it has not been shipped from an FMD-positive country.

Although the level of FMD-related news coverage appears to have diminished, she said, it should not be seen as a sign the disease no longer exists. And most often the greatest concern with respect to FMD spreading is not live animals but product. As an example of how that could occur, several months ago an outbreak of classic swine fever in Britain was presumably traced to a partially eaten ham sandwich that was tossed over a fence by a hiker and consumed by a pig, veterinary sources said.

Although the level of FMD-related news coverage appears to have diminished, she said, it should not be seen as a sign the disease no longer exists. And most often the greatest concern with respect to FMD spreading is not live animals but product. As an example of how that could occur, several months ago an outbreak of classic swine fever in Britain was presumably traced to a partially eaten ham sandwich that was tossed over a fence by a hiker and consumed by a pig, veterinary sources said.

NPPC will continue to press Congress, USDA, pork producers and other livestock groups for stricter inspection protocols as well as encourage pork producers and packers to prohibit foreign visitors from touring U.S. farms and packing plants.

Determan also would like to see more USDA funding for prevention of foreign animal diseases and an animal health and bio-security risk assessment of all shows or expositions that include live animals.

USDA announced May 25 it would lift the ban "immediately" affecting mostly pork product from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Austria. However, imports from the UK, France, Greece, Ireland and the Netherlands will remain in place.

Denmark and the Netherlands were the two largest exporters of EU pork to the states in 2000 at 148 million pounds and 10.7 million, respectively, according to USDA's Economic Research Service.

Determan estimated EU pork exports to the U.S. were valued around $200 million to $250 million, about half of which consists of ribs from Denmark.

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