Bill would make infection of livestock a felony in Pennsylvania

Bill would make infection of livestock a felony in Pennsylvania

June 13, 2001 Associated Press by Timothy D. May

Deliberately infecting livestock with European viruses such as foot-and-mouth or mad cow disease would become a felony in Pennsylvania under a measure approved unanimously Wednesday by the state House.

The "agroterrorism" bill already had been approved in the Senate. The House attached two amendments that proponents described as minor, inserting language to highlight two additional diseases: avian influenza, which affects poultry, and a disease that attacks honeybees.

The amendments will require an additional Senate vote, but they are not expected to obstruct final passage, which could come as early as next week. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Ridge said the governor has not taken a position on the legislation.

Sen. Noah W. Wenger, R-Lancaster, said he sponsored the bill primarily to deter anyone planning to sabotage Pennsylvania livestock with diseases, especially those that have ravaged European farm animals. He acknowledged that he knew of no such incidents in Pennsylvania.

Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a highly contagious virus. It affects cloven hoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and deer, causing painful blisters on the mouth, nose, feet and teats. The blisters result in weight loss and reduced milk yield. Young and weak animals can die from the disease.

Mad cow disease and a related disease in humans are caused by abnormally shaped proteins, known as prions, that prompt healthy brain proteins to assume their shape. The misshapen proteins eventually form sponge-like holes in the brain, killing those infected.

No known cases of either disease have yet been reported in Pennsylvania, or in the United States, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture.

"At this point it's just a precautionary measure, a deterrent to anyone bringing these serious diseases into the country," Wenger said Wednesday.

The bill makes intentionally exposing animals to "any virus that leads to an infectious disease" a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

It would not apply to exposures that are part of research or veterinarian services.

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