Within a matter of weeks, foot-and-mouth, a highly contagious disease that affects hooved animals -- cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer -- has taken a catastrophic toll on herds, especially in the U.K.
While the virulent disease is not readily harmful to humans, people who visit infected areas in the countryside can transport the foot -- and-mouth virus on their shoes, clothing and luggage.
To protect against an inadvertent spread of the economically devastating disease in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a program to alert U.S.-bound airline passengers coming from the European Union countries. Some carriers now hand passengers information sheets. Cabin crews make announcements on their U.S.-bound flights and tell passengers they must check the box on their U.S. Customs forms as to whether they have visited a farm or not.
LYING CAN BE COSTLY
Arriving passengers can expect to be asked by U.S. Customs if they've visited a farm, a rural area, stayed at a bed and breakfast in the countryside or if they've brought back meat or food products. Passenger who lie about bringing food into the country and are caught can be fined up to $1,000.
U.S. Customs is using its Beagle Brigade to sniff luggage and passengers for contraband meat products as well as drugs.
Passengers who've been out in the countryside can have their shoes and luggage disinfected, U.S. officials said. A bleach solution will be used to cleanse the shoes of anyone who has visited a farm in one of the 15 countries in the European Union. Additionally, people who have been around livestock in the U.K. should have their clothing cleaned and disinfected before returning to the U.S.
AIRLINE MENU CHANGES
Passengers bound from Europe to the U.S. also will find that some airline menus have changed because of foot-and-mouth. United Airlines, for example, has banished beef and veal from its menus on some 30 U.S.-bound flights. Menus do include pork, lamb, poultry, fish, seafood and pasta, said Joe Hopkins, a United spokesman.
American Airlines has reduced the number of beef entrees it puts on its flights because fewer customers are choosing it, said Tim Kincaid, a spokesman. "But we try to give everyone a choice. A lot depends on where the flight originates and the market."
Delta Air Lines withdrew beef from its menu in January because of mad cow disease, said spokeswoman Cindi Kurczewski. "We currently don't serve any beef or veal in Economy Class on our flights from Europe to the U.S. We do offer beef as a menu selection in Business Elite, but we only buy South American beef and, according to the research we have, it's safe." Northwest Airlines said it doesn't normally serve beef entrees on its flights from Europe to the U.S.
British Airways said that it has not removed beef from its menus, but is monitoring the situation and its suppliers. "Obviously, whatever meat we serve is not going to come from infected areas," said John Lampl, the carrier's spokesman. "There was a time when we didn't have any beef on the airplanes when mad cow disease was virulent. From a public perception, we will do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our passengers, whatever that happens to be."
An Air France spokeswoman said the carrier hasn't modified its menus because of foot-and-mouth but "has been able to trace with as much certainty as possible the origin of any of the animal products that we use in any of our meals on board. We feel completely confident that what we're serving our passengers is very healthy and disease-free."
WHEN IN DOUBT . . .
If you are offered beef as a choice on your flight to the U.S. and have doubts, just decline and choose another entree.
Meanwhile, visitors to Britain who want to spend time in such popular hiking places as the English Cotswolds, the Lake District, Scottish Highland and national parks now must modify their vacations to avoid off-limit areas. Some attractions, such as Stonehenge, Hadrian's Wall, the Royal Parks of Richmond and Hampton Court are also closed.
The Wales Tourist Board reports that while Snowdonia National Park is closed, most other places in the country accessible by main highways are open for business.
Anyone planning a trip to the U.K. or Europe should question his or her travel agent about possible itinerary changes.
To keep abreast of foot-and-mouth and its impact, travelers can follow their newspapers and check the following sources: