WASHINGTON (B)--USDA Secretary Ann Veneman March 28 said she informed a visiting European Union commissioner the U.S. has no intention of lifting the ban on EU meat and livestock because of foot-and-mouth disease.

She said the virulent livestock disease is still out of control and spreading in the EU, and USDA will not consider easing the ban until that changes.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with EU Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne, Veneman said "Obviously, the situation in Europe is not under control yet with the continued increasing number of cases of foot-and-mouth disease."

Byrne said he urged Veneman to consider a partial repeal of the ban that affects mostly uncooked pork products such as ribs, but the USDA secretary said her response was an adamant no.

"Not at this time," she said. Though she added the status of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in Europe is being constantly monitored by USDA.

Byrne pledged if there is ever an isolated outbreak of FMD in the U.S., the EU will not ban imports from every state and so he would likewise expect the U.S. not to punish the 11 EU countries that have not reported outbreaks of the disease.

In response, Veneman said, "I think that clearly when this initially happened we took a regional view to it. We suspended imports from the UK...and we then expanded that."

"(FMD) went into France, it has now gone into the Netherlands, into Ireland and as the situation gets under control we will continue to review it. At this point the...temporary suspension does apply to the whole EU."

"We are continuing to review to make sure it is appropriate...but as the disease spreads we needed to make sure that what we were doing was appropriate. We wanted to make sure that we did not get the disease in this country..."

FMD is a highly contagious virus that debilitates cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine and sheep, but presents no threat to human health, according to USDA.

Hundreds of thousands of animals have already been destroyed in the European Union in an effort to stop the spread of FMD. The USDA has announced in the U.S. it has gone to a heightened alert status at airports and seaports to protect U.S. herds.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has estimated that in a worst-case scenario, massive FMD outbreaks in the U.S. could cause $12 billion to $15 billion in yearly losses to the meat and livestock industry. That includes the loss of $3.6 billion worth of beef exports and $1.2 billion worth of pork exports, the cost of destroying animals and expected meat price declines.

The virus has not been reported in the U.S. since 1929. Mexico had its last outbreak in 1946 and Canada has been FMD-free since 1952.

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