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Why I met an FBI agent in Cleveland this week

Agriculture.com Staff 04/11/2006 @ 10:51am

Me again. I've got too much to say, and you're busy waxing the planter, so let's be quick here. Summary of my month:

One of the Plum Island lab buildings, as seen from the commuter ferry crossing from Connecticut to Long Island. Ventilation and plumbing are a big logistical challenge for any animal lab, especially this one.

Place where I took my mother to visit crazy scientists who work on foot-and-mouth disease in a high-security lab. They have to be crazy (just like farmers have to be crazy) because (a) nobody remembers foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) anymore, (b) scientists get about as much respect as farmers, and (c) every day they have to strip buck naked and shower out of the lab before they (d) ride the ferry back to the mainland with (e) armed Homeland Security guys who don't have a very good sense of humor and who (f) don't let anyone have a beer on the ferry. I just want to say this to the Plum Island people: Thank you. Keep up the great work. And, um, please don't come visit Iowa.

1929: Year of the last FMD outbreak in the US.

Why that's good: The current method to manage an FMD outbreak is to destroy herds and ban pork and beef exports for 3-6 months. Dairy, too.

Why we don't have FMD, but almost everyone else in the world does: (a) We're a big island. (b) Most farmers don't travel overseas. Well, until lately, to Brazil.

Brazil: Country now having an outbreak of FMD.

Amount of time FMD virus can live on muddy boots: Months.

Five days: Time I spent hiding in my farmhouse, in quarantine (as recommended), after coming home from Plum Island. No muddy boots.

1978: Year that some FMD virus leaked out of the ventilation pipes at the lab on Plum Island. Fortunately, the mainland there -- rural Connecticut and Long Island, New York -- is not big rodeo country. Ratio of trendy wineries, antique stores, and oversized beach houses to packing plants: 3,000 to 1.

35 miles: Distance FMD virus can travel by air.

Ames, Iowa: One of the places bidding to be the new home of Plum Island.

Less than one mile: Distance between the proposed Ames site and I-35.

Lots: Number of livestock trucks on I-35 every day.

Zero: Number of livestock trucks that drive within a mile of Plum Island every day.

Zero: Number of risk assessment studies done so far on moving FMD facilities to Ames.

Just guess: My opinion of moving Plum Island to Iowa.

Good: Odds that I will write a whole story about the topic of moving Plum Island to Iowa.

A debonair FBI agent: One of the participants brought in by Case School of Law to "act" out an FMD outbreak so lawyers could start thinking about their roles.

Other participants: An Ohio dairy farmer, the Ohio Dept. of Ag, a sheriff, a guy from FEMA, the Canadian USDA, a terrorism reporter, and a newspaper editor.

Topics: Who will have jurisdiction? What rules are in place ... or not? Who is ready?

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