September 11, 2003



Aphis Cancels Visit To Argentina Because Of FMD


The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Aphis) has canceled plans to visit Argentina in October because of an outbreak of foot- and-mouth disease in the country, Jorge Amaya, president of Argentina's animal and health inspection agency (Senasa), said Wednesday.


Aphis had planned to send a technical team to Argentina to evaluate whether to reopen the U.S. market to fresh Argentine beef.


But those plans are now on hold, according to Amaya.


"The mission has been suspended," Amaya said during a press conference. "U.S. law requires Aphis to wait one year after the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (before it can review a ban on fresh beef imports)."


Amaya also said that Senasa has not detected the presence of foot-and- mouth anywhere outside the infected region in the province of Salta.


"There have not been any other outbreaks," said Amaya, who then tapped his hands on the table and said "knock on wood."


On Sept. 5, Senasa confirmed that foot-and-mouth disease had infected a small number of pigs at a slaughter house in Salta. This was the first confirmed presence of foot-and-mouth since January 2002.


The U.S. has not imported fresh Argentine beef since March 2001, when Argentina confirmed a widespread outbreak of the disease.


Still, last week's outbreak, and Aphis's decision not to visit the country, represent a setback for Argentina, which prior to March 2001 had exported 20,000 tons of fresh beef annually to the U.S.


Even so, Senasa officials were hopeful that Argentina might not have to wait another year before the U.S. considers reopening its fresh beef market.


The U.S. has said it might be willing to make a "goodwill gesture" so Argentina doesn't have to wait a whole year, according to Rodolfo Acerbi, a specialist in international markets at Senasa.


Meanwhile, Acerbi said that Russia and Bulgaria had both banned beef imports from the provinces of Salta and Formosa, which border Bolivia. Both provinces have been under a state of alert because of recent foot-and-mouth problems in Bolivia.


Russia's total ban from beef in these provinces contrasts with a recent decision by the European Union to suspend beef imports from only five small areas in the region.




Acerbi said he was confident that Argentina would reach export agreements with neighbors such as Chile which banned local beef imports after the confirmation of foot-and-mouth.


"Chile is an important market for us," Acerbi said. "We suppose that in the short term we'll be able to open these markets.


Acerbi later said Chile might reopen its market within a "few weeks."


Chile imports a third of the beef it consumes, with Argentina, the world's No. 7 beef exporter, accounting for 19%, or some 9000 tons, of beef, out of the import total. Most beef is imported from the provinces of Santa Fe and Buenos Aires, away from the affected Salta region.


"Chile has been very measured in its response, and we're very grateful for this," Acerbi said. "Chile is giving Argentina a chance to renew exports without having to wait a six-month period," which is what normally must be done.




Senasa called Wednesday's press conference to clarify information about the foot-and-mouth problems and dispel local rumors that many markets had completely closed their doors to Argentine beef, officials said.


"Only the countries that border Argentina have closed (their borders) and these are temporary suspensions," said Amaya.


But the Senasa president did not stop there.


Amaya, who took office only last week, made repeated efforts to distinguish his administration from previous administrations at Senasa.


In particular, Amaya sought to differentiate himself from those who ran Argentina's Agriculture Secretariat in early 2001, when officials tried to cover up a widespread foot-and-mouth outbreak.


"We have been told to not lie," said Amaya, referring to instructions received from Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. "We're not going to lie."


Amaya said Argentina has "paid a high price" for its past mistakes regarding foot-and-mouth. Moreover, he said that past attempts to cover-up the disease had been a "catastrophe" for the country.
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