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Archive for Saturday, March 16, 2002

Senate to have foot-and-mouth disease hearings

March 16, 2002

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— State officials will face a special legislative hearing on how they managed information as unfounded rumors spread this week about an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said Friday the committee would hear next week from the heads of the agencies involved in managing the incident. Scheduled to appear Tuesday are Maj. Gen. Greg Gardner, who is the state's adjutant general, and Agriculture Secretary Jamie Clover Adams.

Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden, whose agency initially responded to the incident, has not confirmed he will attend. The rumor began this past Tuesday at the Holton Livestock Exchange in northeast Kansas, where nine cattle were found with suspicious lesions in their mouths.

Veterinarians did not believe they had a case of foot-and-mouth disease but sent samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in New York for verification. Those tests were negative, and the lesions were blamed on coarse feed.

"Information management was a problem this week," Schmidt said. "Crisis management is more than just stopping the disease. It also is managing the crisis. It appears the crisis management plan needs some work."

Gov. Bill Graves said he has asked Teagarden to "invest some time" in developing a better strategy of disseminating information. The governor said it is important to remember that tests on animals occur frequently, and that this was a case of someone outside the loop not knowing the full story.

The USDA's Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service does about 800 foot-and-mouth tests each year. The nation has not had a case of the disease since 1929.

The rumor was enough to damage livestock markets nationwide, which saw a precipitous drop in prices throughout the week. Also sent tumbling were financial stocks of fast-food restaurants that rely on consumer demand for beef.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Livestock Assn. worked to dispel the rumors, but it was not until late Wednesday night before the results of the USDA tests confirmed there was no foot-and-mouth disease.

Criticism came about the way the incident was handled and a concern that tests were sent to the East Coast. Schmidt said the tests were sent to New York because Kansas does not have a lab suited for handling the case.

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