October 6, 2003



US May Consider Fresh Beef Imports from Southern Argentina


The US plans to send a sanitary inspection team to southern Argentina to evaluate livestock conditions in the area, something that could eventually lead the U.S. to lift its ban on fresh beef from the region, an Argentine official told OsterDowJones.


"I don't have the dates yet, but the delegation is going to visit the Patagonia instead of the entire country," said Jorge Amaya, president of Senasa ¡§C Argentina's animal, food and vegetable health agency - in an interview on Thursday.


Patagonia, roughly defined as the southern half of Argentina, is free of foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination below the 42nd parallel. The region has not been affected by any of the foot-and-mouth outbreaks that have appeared elsewhere in Argentina in recent years.


Does this mean the U.S. might recognize the segregation of regions of Argentina into areas that are completely free of foot-and-mouth disease?


"Yes, clearly," said Amaya. "This is an enormous country. We're talking about 1,500km between Tierra del Fuego and (the province of Salta) where the last outbreak was. It's as if we were comparing an outbreak in France with one in Portugal."


When asked if U.S. officials had said explicitly that they would respect the segregation of regions that could lead to the renewal of fresh beef imports, Amaya said: "This is part of a discussion taking place right now."


Argentina had a minor outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease about a month ago in the northern province of Salta. The outbreak, which has been contained, led the U.S. to suspend an investigative visit scheduled for October.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was supposed to visit Argentina to study the feasibility of reopening the U.S. market to fresh Argentine beef. Aphis officials in the U.S. were unavailable to comment on this story.


Meanwhile, a separate U.S. delegation, possibly from another agency, is scheduled to arrive Oct. 10 to inspect local meat plants, Amaya said.


The U.S. has maintained a ban on fresh Argentine beef since early 2001, when the country acknowledged a widespread outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.


Prior to that outbreak, the U.S. imported up to 20,000 metric tons of fresh Argentine beef per year. The current ban applies only to fresh beef. During the first eight months of 2003, the U.S. was the No. 1 buyer of processed Argentine beef, accounting for 13,236 tons, according to Senasa.