September 8, 2003

 

 

Argentina Confirms Foot-And-Mouth Outbreak; Brazil Bans Argentine Beef Imports After the Confirmation

 

Argentina's food and animal inspection agency, Senasa, on Friday confirmed an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at a slaughterhouse near Argentina's northern border with Bolivia. Confirmation of the disease means that Argentina immediately loses its status as a nation free of foot-and-mouth disease, a Senasa source said.

   

"Epidemiological tests conducted on pigs in the area of Tartagal, in the province of Salta, resulted positive for the foot-and-mouth virus," Senasa said in a statement. "The lesions observed in the pigs indicate that they are more than 30 days old. There are currently no animals (besides the tested pigs) that show acute clinical signs of the disease in the area."

   

Senasa said it will immediately kill the animals in accordance with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. Senasa's statement did not say how many animals were infected, and sources at the agency said they were unsure how many animals had contracted the disease.

   

By following OIE guidelines, Argentina will be able to recover "free of foot-and-mouth disease with vaccination" status within a period of 180 days, Senasa sources said. Senasa sought to downplay the impact that this outbreak might have on beef exports by saying that the infected area is sparsely populated with bovine animals and cattle.

   

"The area's production is for local consumption with no shipment of animals to other regions of the country, and there is no record of ranches that send animals to be slaughtered for export," Senasa said. The infected area of Tartagal is about 40 kilometers from the Bolivian border.

   

Senasa said it has taken all the necessary measures to control the flow of animals into and out of the region. Some animal establishments in the area have been closed for at least 90 days.

 

BRAZIL BANS ARGENTINE BEEF             

 

It was not immediately clear how the confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease will affect Argentina's exports. However, neighboring Brazil immediately banned imports of Argentine beef after the confirmation was announced, Senasa said.

   

Uruguay did the same thing as a precautionary measure on Thursday. News reports over the past week had detailed Argentina's plans to test the animals. Sources at Senasa said they have reason to believe that the outbreak will not have a negative impact on exports.

   

The sources said European Union officials called earlier on Friday to say they were happy with the way Argentina's authorities were handling the problem.

   

"The E.U. called us today to congratulate us on the way we are handling this issue," said a Senasa source. "From all the indications we are getting, there is reason to think that this will not influence the markets." Still, sources said that foreign markets are autonomous agents and will make their own decisions.

   

The E.U. accounted for more than one-third of Argentina beef exports in the first seventh months of this year. Canada, Japan, Mexico and the U.S. have had their borders closed to fresh Argentine beef since March 2001.

   

"In the end, there is nothing we can do about this," a source said. "We hope markets will not close, but they will decide what measures they will take."

   

Meanwhile, one industry analyst said this is not as big a problem as many might think.

   

"We're analyzing the problem right now, but this is really pretty insignificant because it is a tiny outbreak near the border with Bolivia," said Mario Rabetino, a spokesman with the Argentine Beef Consortium. "This is not that negative."

   

Argentina exported $322 million of beef in the first seven months of 2003, according to Senasa. The country shipped 159,781 tons of beef - including fresh beef, chilled boneless cuts, frozen boneless cuts, processed cooked beef and related bovine innards - to 62 countries.

   

In terms of both volume and sales, this is 34% more than what Argentina sold abroad during the same period in 2002, according to Senasa. Still, sales would be higher if markets in Canada, Japan, Mexico and the U.S. were open to Argentine fresh beef. It was unclear Friday whether the confirmation of foot-and-mouth would delay any plans by these countries to reopen their borders to fresh Argentine beef.

   

Canada and the U.S. are sending technical teams to Argentina in October to evaluate sanitary standards at Senasa and review the reopening of fresh beef imports.

 

UNEXPECTED CONFIRMATION

 

The confirmation of foot-and-mouth comes as a bit of a surprise. Sources at Argentina's Agriculture Secretariat and in the local beef industry had told OsterDowJones they were highly confident that the problem in Salta would prove to be nothing more than common foot lesions and not the dreaded viral disease.

   

On July 7, the OIE declared Argentina free of foot-and-mouth disease with vaccination.

   

In March 2001, Argentine officials belatedly admitted to a widespread outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, leading most of Argentina's beef export markets to close their doors to the popular product.

   

Argentina, which has not had an outbreak of FMD since January 2002, is now again exporting fresh beef to 62 foreign markets.

  

Foot-and-mouth disease - which normally strikes cloven-hoofed ruminants such as sheep, pigs, goats and cows - is a highly contagious illness that can be spread through contact with infected animals, farm equipment or meat.

   

The disease can be fatal in animals but is not believed to harm humans.