NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poor Countries Just Live With Hoof And Mouth Disease

April 4, 2001

The crisis caused by hoof-and-mouth disease highlights the difference between modern, large-scale agriculture and the small-scale, organic agriculture that use to be practiced worldwide and is still used in poor countries today.

Since hoof-and-mouth disease is not a threat to human health and usually doesn't kill the animals, many poor countries today simply contain the disease and accept herds that produce much less meat and milk. The disease is only a "crisis" in countries with modern agriculture because of the high level of health of herds.

According to economist Thomas R. DeGregori,

  • Prior to the 1920s, hoof-and-mouth disease was almost an annually recurring threat to livestock everywhere.
  • The United States has not had an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease since 1929, while the disease remains endemic in poor areas in Central Asia, Africa and South America.
  • It was more prevalent before modern high-density husbandry and remains endemic only in areas of less-developed, low-density husbandry.

DeGregori, author of the forthcoming book, "Agriculture and Modern Technology: A Defense," says that until the 20th century, plant and animal diseases were a regular and largely inseparable part of our food and water supply.

  • For example, the aflatoxins that infect grains such as maize and rye brought misery to countless millions of humans and still plague the world's poorest populations.
  • The best estimates today are that 40 percent of the loss of healthy life years in the world result from food-borne mycotoxins.

Countries struggling to survive would be happy to reach the level of development that would allow them to deal with the supposed dangers of modern life, such as mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease, says DeGregori.

Source: Thomas R. DeGregori (University of Houston), "Hoof-and-mouth crisis shows how far we've come," Houston Chronicle, March 20, 2001.


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