Kansas, Missouri legislators develop livestock laws
Response sought for diseases spread by bioterrorists

May 10, 2001 The Kansas City Star by Bill Graham

Kansas and Missouri legislators are addressing bioterrorism - especially involving foot-and-mouth disease - by making it a felony to knowingly infect livestock with the disease.

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves is expected to sign a foot-and-mouth response bill that would give anyone convicted of intentionally infecting cattle from 38 to 72 months in prison.

Legislation pending in the Missouri General Assembly would provide a five-year prison sentence for knowingly infecting animals with any disease, or up to 15 years in prison if damages exceed $10 million.

"It's a message," said Missouri Rep. Ken Legan, a cattleman from Polk County. "We wouldn't look on it kindly here."

Bioterrorism is a feared method of spreading foot-and-mouth.

"I think if it does come into America, it'll be that way, not by livestock movement," said George Teagarden, Kansas livestock commissioner.

"Controls are in place to keep out diseased cattle. But these types of criminal acts are real hard to control."

President Bush on Tuesday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate responses to terrorist attacks, including biological weapons.

Federal bioterrorism laws call for sentences of up to life in prison for infecting humans, animals or plants with disease.

Legan said state law would cover cases that might not meet federal jurisdiction.

The foot-and-mouth virus does not harm humans, but it hurts livestock production. Control costs and trade embargoes to halt disease spread can cost nations billions.

Britain has slaughtered 2.5 million animals, and although the disease is slowing there, foot-and-mouth surfaces throughout the world in sporadic outbreaks.

The virus is highly contagious and can travel in the wind, on shoes or clothing and in meat products.

Such outbreaks are prompting state and federal agriculture officials to update outbreak contingency plans, including bioterrorism punishments.

Kansas' old law simply forbade the transport of diseased cattle, Teagarden said. The new law will prosecute anyone knowingly infecting livestock. It is aimed at bioterrorists.

"Cattlemen realize they more likely could get foot-and-mouth, not from live animals, but from somebody carrying it in a package," he said.

One study recently noted that the mail was the most vulnerable portal for intentional or accidental disease spread, said John Hunt, Missouri state veterinarian.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors check foreign mail shipments, baggage and cargo at entry ports.

Missouri farmers are concerned that an organized effort to disrupt the livestock industry could happen, said Legan, the Missouri state representative.

He recently received an e-mail about a reported threat found at an Internet site.

"I don't think the common guy could do it," Legan said. "But somebody intent on committing an act of terrorism could research and figure out how to do it."

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