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Putnam: Outbreak threatens Florida

The U.S. representative says federal agencies should increase vigilance against foot and mouth disease.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001

DADE CITY -- U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam said Wednesday that the federal government needs to do more to protect Florida farms from an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Putnam, R-Bartow, who serves on the House agriculture committee, said Florida, New York, California and Texas need special protections against imported diseases, perhaps designation as official "sentinel states."

At a town hall visit to Dade City on Wednesday night, the freshman representative said Florida's steady stream of foreign tourists makes it a prime entry point for a variety of insects and diseases. He said more direct flights from the United Kingdom land in Florida each day than in any other state.

A tourist wearing shoes infected with foot and mouth disease -- currently rampant in the United Kingdom -- could spark a disaster in Florida, he said.

"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen here," Putnam said.

Putnam called for increased coordination between federal agencies. Instead of having federal Fish and Wildlife officers looking for endangered species traffic while customs agents look for contraband, all federal agents should be cross-trained in spotting potentially communicable diseases.

Three weeks ago, a cargo container loaded with potentially infected British farm equipment was intercepted in Mobile, Ala., he said.

Tourists need to be educated about the danger, and ports of entry need tighter protections, he said.

"They need to have foot baths at every point of entry for folks to wash down their feet," he said.

Florida is a leading producer of cattle, Putnam said.

"Foot and mouth disease is a major, major threat to our economy," he said.

Although his visit to Dade City attracted a small crowd, about a dozen people, Putnam touched on a variety of subjects:

On China: Putnam predicted Congress would take some action to show displeasure with the recent incident involving a U.S. spy plane. Congress could oppose China's bid for the Olympics, or even increase arms sales to Taiwan.

"Maybe, just to send a message, we'll throw in an extra destroyer or two," he said.

On Medicare: Putnam predicted some type of overhaul will be on the table by the end of next year.

On the federal budget: The biggest fights this year are ahead, Putnam said. A likely one will come as budget hawks try to keep spending increases to below 4 percent across the board, he said.

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