America Braces for Contaminated Beef
Bush Administration Squeezes Average American
Chemical Weapons Left Nasty Mark on D.C.

America Braces for Contaminated Beef
Plagues Without Borders

The foot-and-mouth disease plaguing European farmers doesn't appear to have reached the U.S., but with an outbreak in Argentina and a case in Venezuela, the virus is drawing closer. All last week, American producers lined up their defenses, just in case. In North Carolina, a center of hog production, producers were taking precautionary steps against the easily transmitted bug, limiting visitors and asking the salesmen to wear booties.

Meanwhile, effects from the meat scare began working their way into the U.S. economy. McDonald's warned of a decline in first-quarter earnings because of the European panic over contaminated beef. Even before Denmark announced its quarantine on pork, American buyers dropped the country's baby back ribs, a staple in specialty food chains, sending a shiver through the market and driving prices up by more than 25 percent. A hint of increased sales of U.S. meat—at least in the short term—came with a spike in inquiries and orders from Japanese pork buyers, who have been forced out of the European market.

The foot-and-mouth crisis points up—better than any anarchist's smoke bomb—the dangers of unfettered commerce between nations. Animals infected today carry a form of the virus that first appeared in India during the mid 1990s, then spread westward through the Middle East, reaching Europe in 1998. There have been outbreaks in Russia, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, South Africa, and Central Asia.

Trouble in England began this February, when a herd of old sows in the northern part of the country ate infected swill obtained from factories, schools, and hospitals. The rules say providers must boil their swill to kill disease before sending it on. In this case, vets tracking the outbreak speculate the feed could have contained a bit of meat from Asia. But nobody knows for sure.

The pigs passed the ailment on to sheep, which then were purchased by buyers anxious to meet the Easter demand for lamb. Vets believe diseased meat is not only sold throughout England, but moves swiftly across Europe's newly relaxed boundaries. Animals are checked only when they enter the EU, not when they move between member countries. The situation is complicated by an active black market in livestock. Some observers speculate that the earlier outbreak of mad-cow disease contributed to the problems with foot-and-mouth, because Brits ramped up animal imports.

Will the disease reach the U.S.? From 1870 to 1929, America experienced nine big outbreaks of foot-and-mouth, which caused millions of animals to be killed and forced ranchers out of business. A huge outbreak occurred in central Mexico after World War II. U.S. vets and field-workers rushed in to help Mexican officials herd more than 1 million animals into trenches, where they were shot, disinfected, and buried. Last week authorities banned the import of EU animal products and began selectively sanitizing the belongings of overseas airline passengers.

All of this for a disease that usually affects humans like the common cold. Nor does foot-and-mouth kill livestock, instead merely sickening the animal for a few weeks and leaving it thinner and with a poorer grade of meat. The issue is not health but economic productivity. British papers are beginning to question the mass slaughter of uninfected animals—a practice that dates back to the 18th century. In Iran officials have adopted a more modern approach, using vaccines to slow the spread of foot-and-mouth.

"Nobody wants to trade with the countries that have the disease, because they are worried about getting the disease themselves," says Thomas Pringle, a scientific consultant with the Sperling Biomedical Foundation in Oregon. "To eradicate infected animals is cheaper than vaccination. But you have to know that a lot of countries have this disease. It's all over the world. A lot of countries just don't bother to eradicate.

"Infected animals are less competitive than the others," he adds. "They produce less milk, for example, and that's why they get eradicated."

A North American outbreak could force the imposition of strictures against travel and recreation—the same kind of clampdown now crippling rural England. "If the disease was to come to the U.S. or to Canada, it could be extremely expensive," Pringle says. "We would have to maybe order the people to stay at home."

Bush Administration Squeezes Average American
The New Debtor Prison

All the brave talk about how great our economy has been can't hide the basic fact that the lower-middle class did not prosper during the Clinton years and now is headed for deep trouble—especially the working poor and the elderly. Robert Reich, secretary of labor during Clinton's first term, said Sunday on C-Span's Washington Journal that he was told not to talk about the enormous numbers of people left out. "This huge economic boom of the 1990s bypassed . . . almost 50 percent of Americans," he said.

Under President Bush, the outlook for the average worker may grow much worse. Already, steep declines in the stock market have stripped value from the 401(k) plans that for some 22.3 million Americans have become a kind of unsecured pension. Bush has long advocated allowing laborers to invest part of their payroll deductions rather than having the government automatically stash the earnings in Social Security. This would represent one of the greatest windfalls in history for Wall Street, but in the current economic climate would be an unmitigated disaster for the nation's elderly.

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