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FTR #295 Update on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Mad-Cow Disease

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MP3 One Segment [1]
RealAudio [2]
NB: This RealAudio stream contains FTRs 294 and 295 in sequence. Each is a 30-minute broadcast.

1. Presenting more information about the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and mad-cow diseases, this program begins with discussion of contingency plans to handle foot-and-mouth should the disease break out in the United States. These plans entail the coordinated efforts of a number of governmental agencies and could be viewed as a step that, in certain respects, would move the country closer to a form of limited martial law. “The first comprehensive exercise about how the nation would contain foot-and-mouth disease showed that an outbreak could be stopped only with the combined strength of all federal disaster agencies, including the military, Agriculture Department officials have said. After decades of relying largely on state and local governments to help contain animal diseases, the Department of Agriculture asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a plan to combat this one as forcefully as if it threatened human lives, said Clifford Oliver, the director of Agriculture Department’s office of crisis planning. ‘We were coming to the realization that state and local government would be overwhelmed and the U.S.D.A. would be overwhelmed if foot-and-mouth broke out,’ Mr. Oliver said. With Britain, one of the most advanced agricultural nations, enduring an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease and British troops belatedly called in for mass burials of hundreds of thousands of slaughtered animals, American farmers and ranchers began lobbying their state agriculture chiefs for better planning. Those officials recently urged Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to find out what the rest of the government could do to contain an outbreak. The federal Catastrophic Disaster Response Group, which normally worries about bio-terrorism or industrial disasters, organized the table-top exercise for the Agriculture Department on Wednesday, bringing together representatives of 26 agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Interior, Energy and Health and Human Services, Mr. Oliver said. The exercise confirmed fears that without the entire government working to contain it, the disease would spread like wildfire if it ever reached this country.” (“Cattle Disease Poses Threat to Run Wild, U.S. Finds” by Elizabeth Becker; New York Times; 4/17/2001; p. A15.)

2. Interestingly (and perhaps significantly), an international commission studying international regulation of biological warfare development noted that strengthening an existing treaty would facilitate world-wide monitoring of foot-and-mouth disease. “Slow-moving talks on an effective anti-cheating regime for an international treaty banning germ weapons were given a fresh push yesterday when the chairman presented his own compromise draft as a basis for negotiation. Speaking on the first day of a three-week negotiating session, Tibor Toth of Hungary said he was optimistic that a verification protocol for the 1972 biological weapons treaty could be concluded by November when states that are party to the treaty hold their fifth review conference in Geneva. However the six-year old negotiations remain stalled on key aspects of the policing regime, notably concerning the scope and intrusiveness of on-site inspections and issues relating to export controls and technology transfer . . . . He [Toth] appealed to the 50 or so countries taking part in the talks to make concessions to conclude a protocol this year. He said a verification regime would help to head off attempts by rogue states to produce or acquire biological weapons capable of mass destruction of human, animal and plant life. Moreover, by strengthening international co-operation on disease surveillance it would also contribute to reducing deaths and illness from infectious diseases, whether natural or man-made. Foot-and-mouth disease is among those potentially covered by the protocol, Mr. Toth noted.” (“Draft Gives Fresh Push to Germ Warfare Pact” by Frances Williams; Financial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 4.)

3. A recent op-ed column raised the very question at the heart of the discussion set forth in FTR-287, namely, IS the outbreak of foot-and-mouth the result of biological warfare? The writer also raised another aspect of the line of inquiry presented in that program—the possibility that Iraq may have been involved in the deliberate spread of the disease. “Could the United States be at war and not know it? The current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom makes one wonder. Not about Britain’s plight specifically; there’s nothing to suggest that the epidemic there is an act of war. But consider how quickly and easily it has spread. Then consider a regime such as Iraq’s, which has demonstrated a commitment to developing biological weapons. Might such a nation find it advantageous to strike anonymously and biologically by spreading an economically devastating disease or a slow-acting toxin? This is not an abstract question. The Iraqi regime insists that the economic sanctions imposed on it are nothing less than a genocidal attack by the United States and the United Kingdom. The regime has said it is still fighting the Persian Gulf War, and that it will respond to the plight of the Palestinians . . . . Among the agents known to have been loaded into warheads are aflatoxin, a fungal toxin that can cause liver cancer, and wheat-cover smut, which destroys grain crops . . . . And if a slow-developing disease can’t be linked to the event that triggered it, how can a country prevent such attacks? How can it respond? Science might be able to address part of this problem. Subtle differences in varieties of biological agents can be analyzed and traced to certain regions. Other effects might have signatures that can be observed in victims.” (“If an Enemy Attacks, Will We Know It?” by Charles Duelfer; San Jose Mercury News; 4/24/2001; p. 7B.)

4. As noted in FTR-287, a recent U.N. study about the renascent Iraqi development programs for weapons of mass destruction warned of that country’s development of foot-and-mouth virus. (“Missiles, Viruses Still Trouble Experts” by the international staff. Financial Times; 3/2/2001; p. 5.)

5. “Iraq’s research into viruses—including polio, influenza, foot-and-mouth disease, the camelpox virus, infectious hemorrhagic conjuunctivitis virus and rotavirus—was also worrying.” (Idem.)

6. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, the U.S. and Britain launched air strikes against Iraq shortly after George W. Bush became president. The possibility that the foot-and-mouth outbreak might stem from Iraqi biological warfare retaliation for Britain’s role in the strikes is not one that should be too readily cast aside. It is also interesting to note that, as the Charles Duelfer column excerpted noted above points out, genetic signatures of a given contagion-causing organism might yield clues as to the possible origin of the disease. “The strain of foot-and-mouth virus plaguing Britain’s farms was first detected in India more than a decade ago. Scientists have been tracking it across the world since then, but are no closer to determining how it got to England. . . . Experts have identified the virus causing the current outbreak in Europe as belonging to the Pan-Asia type zero strain. The subtype ravaging Britain is normally found in the Middle East and South Asia.” (“Foot-and-Mouth Trots Around Globe” by Emma Ross; San Jose Mercury News; 3/30/2001; p. 5A.) [Mr. Emory notes, in retrospect, that this outbreak is also interesting in light of Pakistani support for the Taliban and the long-standing conflict between that country and India.]

7. In the context of Saddam’s hostility to Britain, several additional facts should be taken into account. One is that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was raised by, and heavily influenced by his pro-Nazi, anti-British uncle. “At ten, he found a mentor in his maternal uncle, Khairallah al-Tulfah, a recently cashiered army officer whose hatred of British colonial rule was matched only by his admiration for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ideals. . . . He learned to read by the light of an oil lamp and fed his spirit on his uncle’s tales of exploits with pro-German officers in the Iraqi army. Khairallah al-Tulfah had a dream that Arabs would one day be free of foreign occupation and foreign rule. The Germans, Khairallah said, were the only ones who respected the Arabs as equals. The British were just after their oil.” (The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq; by Kenneth Timmerman; copyright 1991 [HC]; by Houghton Mifflin Company; ISBN 0-395-59305-0; p.1.)

8. Khairallah was also deeply involved with the development of the Iraqi biological weapons program, which was known as the “General Directorate of Veterinary Services!” “Saddam Hussein was attracted early on to bacteriological weapons. They were cheap, relatively simple to manufacture, and potentially deadly. . . . On November 2, 1974, [Izzat] al-Douri signed a contract with the Paris-based Institut Merieux, to set up Iraq’s first bacteriological laboratory. The Iraqis explained that they needed to be able to manufacture large quantitites of vaccines in order to develop agricultural and animal production. The official Iraqi purchasing agency was called the General Directorate of Veterinary Services.” (Ibid.; p. 20.)

9. “Al Douri’s success won him a promotion and made him a de facto member of the team, the three-man Strategic Planning Committee, along with Saddam, Khairallah, and Adnan Hamdani.” (Ibid.; pp. 20-21.)

10. One interesting detail concerning the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain concerns reports of human infections with the disease. “Government hopes of persuading tourists back to the countryside suffered a serious setback yesterday when a slaughterman in north-west England was suspected of catching foot-and-mouth disease. The Department of Health said a man involved in the mass cull in Cumbria was suffering blistering which indicated he had become infected with the disease, although final results from medical tests would not be available for a day or two. The news came as the government faced growing concern about the health risks of burning carcasses on mass funeral pyres and seemed certain to undermine last week’s claim that the epidemic was now ‘fully under control.’ The government has always maintained the risk to humans from foot-and-mouth is minimal and, with many tourist businesses on the brink of collapse, has urged people to return to rural areas . . . . Peter Ainsworth, culture spokesman for the opposition conservative party, said that if the case was confirmed it would be a ‘massive setback to the recovery of British tourism’ as some Americans and other visitors who mistakenly believe foot-and-mouth is a serious risk to human health would decide to stay away. ‘It’s a further massive dent to the image of British tourism at a time when we can ill afford it.’ Mr. Ainsworth said . . . . ‘This is incredibly rare.’ Said a Department of Health spokesman.’ ‘The symptoms are relatively mild and it should respond well to treatment and clear up quickly.’” (“Suspectd Human Foot-and-Mouth Case Hits Government Campaign” by Michael Mann and Cathy Newman; Financial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 9.)

11. More suspected human infections were reported by the Financial Times the following day. “Two more suspected cases of foot-and-mouth disease being transmitted to humans were being investigated by the Department of Health yesterday as the government’s handling of the crisis was strongly criticized by leading independent scientists. Results from the first suspected case, involving a slaughterman in Cumbria, North-West England, are due shortly. Officials said the circumstances in which he may have caught the infection were highly unusual and proved there was no cause for concern. The man was moving a decomposing carcass when it exploded.” (“Livestock Disease Suspected in More Humans” by John Mason Cathy Newman and Michael Mann; Financial Times; 4/25/2001; p. 9.) One of the possibilities to be investigated is that the strain of foot-and-mouth may have been genetically altered to affect humans.

12. The remainder of the broadcast deals with mad-cow disease and its human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mad cow disease is believed to result from nervous system tissue from scrapie-infected sheep being fed to cows. Scrapie, in turn has also been studied by elements associated with the creation of biological weapons, including the National Cancer Institute [3].

13. “Alternatively, ‘slow’ viruses were of the greatest interest to WHO, CDC, NIH, and NCI scientists between 1968 and 1974. The reasons for this were not as obvious. The WHO Chronicle reported: ‘Recent interest in the slow viruses, in particular those causing chronic degenerative disease of the nervous system—the CHINA (chronic infectious neuropathic agents) viruses—has come from painstaking work with visna and scrapie, degenerative diseases of the central nervous system of sheep. . . . CHINA viruses are distinguished by the languishing character of the infection process they initiate. The incubation period in the host may be months or years, and the disease itself may progress laggardly towards an irreversible deterioration of the victim. . . . The resistance of the scrapie agent to heat, ether, formalin, and other enzymatic and chemical agents, as well as its very small particle size, poses the question whether it is a conventional virus, an incomplete virus, or some other agent. . . . the findings of different [research] groups are at variance and in several instances are totally inexplicable within our present concept of infectious agents.’” (Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola—Nature, Accident or Intentional?; by Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz; Copyright 1996 [HC] by Tetrahedron Inc.; ISBN 0-923550-12-7; pp. 16-17.)

14. In determining whether mad cow could be the result of biological warfare, it is interesting to note that genetic differences may account for the epidemiological characteristics of the disease in Britain. This suggests at least the possibility of genetic engineering in connection with the disease. “Scientists have confirmed that cases of the human form of mad cow disease in the North are running at double the rate in the South. . . . The researchers found it was twice as common in the North of England and Scotland, but were at a loss to explain the difference after finding no clear link with regional differences in eating habits. . . .’We also need to keep an open mind about other factors unrelated to diet. . . . these could include the genetic background of victims. All those who developed the disease had a specific genetic make-up and it could be that people in the North are more genetically susceptible than in other places.’” (“Puzzled Scientists Try to Explain Regional Variation in Figures” by Mike Waites; Yorkshire Post; 3/30/2001.)

15. The broadcast concludes with examination of a hypothetical explanation for the outbreak of mad-cow disease. Investigators in New Zealand blame the outbreak in Britain on an African antelope imported into a game park in the mid-1970’s. “An African antelope imported for a British game park may have triggered the ‘mad-cow’ disease that has devastated beef herds in Britain, New Zealand researchers believe. Scientists from Massey University led by epidemiologist Roger Morris, are preparing to publish scientific work underpinning the theory, Professor Morris said. The team investigated 35 theories of the cause of the epidemic. If true, the antelope theory would supplant a widely held belief that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, originated in sheep infected with a similar disease, scrapie, which were ground up for animal feed. Scientific papers to be published later this year by Mr. Morris and the team will canvass the likelihood that a form of BSE occurs in wild antelope, and spread into British cattle when an infected animal from a wildlife park was rendered into meat and bone meal.” (“’Mad-Cow’ Disease Linked to Antelope Researchers Say” [AP]; Wall Street Journal; 4/23/2001; p. B4A.) Mr. Emory notes that AIDS has come to be blamed (falsely) on infestation from Africa. In light of the research into scrapie conducted by institutions connected to biological warfare development, one wonders if a similar scapegoating of the “dark continent” for the genesis of mad-cow might be under way.