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USDA Participates in Worldwide Research Effort Against FMD

By David Elstein
April 29, 2004

WASHINGTON, Apr. 29—U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and scientists are hosting the Foot and Mouth Disease Global Research Alliance here today and tomorrow to discuss collaborative research to develop better vaccines and antiviral agents against the virus that causes foot and mouth disease (FMD).

"This meeting is important to future research and prevention efforts," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "By bringing together world-class research scientists, we can more effectively focus on cooperative research efforts to help fight this disease."

USDA and the cooperating research organizations have formed the FMD Global Research Alliance to provide tools to countries affected with FMD to slow down the virus and to ensure that FMD-free countries do not have outbreaks of the disease. The alliance includes the Pirbright Laboratory of the United Kingdom's Institute for Animal Health; the Australian Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong, part of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation; the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease; and Kenya's International Livestock Research Institute.

USDA's part of the research will be carried out by scientists from the department's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), working at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located off the northeastern tip of Long Island, N.Y. The United States has not had an outbreak of FMD since 1929.

FMD is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine and sheep. Humans cannot get the disease, but can carry the virus from affected animals to unaffected ones. Animals with FMD usually do not die, but the disease is very debilitating and the animals' production can be permanently impaired.

USDA researchers will work on developing a new vaccine against FMD and will lead the effort to identify antiviral compounds to quickly stop virus replication. Current vaccines can take up to two weeks to fully protect animals from FMD infection. USDA scientists are trying to decrease that time to several days, which could save millions of animals and billions of dollars if an outbreak were to occur.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency. APHIS is responsible for protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, administering the Animal Welfare Act, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities.