Saturday, April 12, 2008

Insert Foot In Mouth Disease

If your government is working on a highly-contagious virus that could threaten to wipe out massive numbers of cattle and other hooved animals, wouldn't you want it to be done in some location far, far away from other cattle? Say, a remote island?

Well, that's been the case for the last 50 years. Plum Island, out on the Long Island sound, has been the main research facility for Hoof and Mouth Disease (also known as Foot and Mouth Disease), for America, as well as Mexico and Canada (see picture).

But now the Bush Administration wants to move the facility to a mainland location:

Oh, but hey, our government must surely take all the reasonable precautions. I mean, being a contagious cattle disease that, if released into the general bovine population would spell the needless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle, won't this new facility will be located in some wilderness far beyond the reach of cattle farms? Right?

No, actually. According to a recent Congressional hearing on the topic, each of the five sites that they are considering, according to the article, are within range of between 132,900 and 542,507 cattle.

But they'll be careful. They'll have all the safeguards. Or will they?

It was revealed in that congressional hearing that the Plum Island facility, considered to be one of the nation's foremost top-level containment units, has had numerous accidents and releases of virus, one of which infected cattle outside of the facility in holding pens. Hoof and Mouth disease is so contagious that it can travel on the breath of worker, on their clothes, on their cars. In 2002, a simulation showed that an outbreak of the virus could potentially infect tens of millions of cows, leading to widespread food shortages, rioting, and a 25-mile-long trench to bury all the slaughtered cows.

The poor cows that get this disease experience painful mouth sores and hoof blisters that swell and burst, then can become infected. Eeesh. And I thought my occasional canker sores were painful.

And why are they moving the facility? Fear over being able to protect Plum Island against terrorists. Hillary Clinton was one of the ones who voiced this fear. Control of the island was recently put in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. I tell you, with all the over-reaction to terrorism (two wars, illegal wiretapping, data mining, waterboarding, screenings at airports, etc etc), I'd say the terrorists have succeeded in their goals of disrupting the American Way. Let's not make it worse, shall we? And, may I add, I am a little leary of decisions about human and animal health issues that seem driven more by politics than science.

Now, I have a great deal of respect for Hillary (although I'm voting for Obama), but I am FAR more afraid of our government's inefficiency and the potential for mistakes by my fellow lab rats than I am of any zealous bin Laden followers.

Get real, Bush. Let's keep the virus off-shore.

Image taken from HERE.


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