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Disease outbreak causes split between state and Brasilia.

SAO PAULO -- A decision by the government to order a large-scale culling of cattle in southern Brazil to try to control an outbreak of foot and mouth disease could touch off a conflict with regional administrations.

The highly contagious disease has been discovered on several ranches in Rio Grande do Sul state, which is adjacent to Uruguay and Argentina, the suspected source of the outbreak.

One of the main complaints about the government's handling of the episode is that it was slow to react to reports of the disease in neighboring countries and did not order the shipment of vaccines to the region soon enough. Even after initial reports of the discovery of cases of foot and mouth disease along the border, the government did not order a vaccination program. By the time it did so, the disease had spread.

Agriculture Minister Pratini de Moraes has been widely criticized for not addressing the disease more forcefully. His comments several weeks ago that he knew nothing about the disease have become the subject of anger by ranchers and there are calls for his resignation.

Although the details of the culling program have not been finalized, the federal government has recommended that all cattle on ranches where cases of the disease have been found be killed. In addition, the government recommends that animals on neighboring ranches also be slaughtered, a decision that could mean the killing of up to 400,000 cattle, according to Rio Grande do Sul Agriculture Secretary Hermeto Hoffman.

Hoffman and other state officials say they may resist the order to slaughter so many cattle, but they say the fear the federal government would then order a ban on the domestic distribution and export of agricultural products from the state in order to contain the spread of the disease. Hoof and mouth disease can be spread via dust, soil from affected areas and agricultural products such as animal feed. The disease can be transmitted to humans on occasion but is generally not serious. However, it can cause widespread devastation among cattle, sheep and other livestock.

The epidemic could have an impact of Brazilian efforts to become a major beef exporter. The country is home to 167 million head of cattle but about 90% of yearly production is consumed domestically. Currently, beef exports generate less than $1 million in revenues per year, about half of which comes from sales of fresh meat. The rest is from sales of processed meats, which do not carry the disease.

However, cattle ranchers have mounted a major campaign in recent years to eradicate hoof and mouth disease with an eye toward expanding export sales significantly. The program was intended to ensure that Brazil was free of the disease by 2005, a goal that is still possible if the current outbreak can be contained.

The region, which includes Rio Grande do Sul, is the most advanced toward certification by the Paris-based International Epizootic Office (OIE) as foot and mouth free without vaccination. Certification would allow producers to enter lucrative beef markets such as the United States and Asia. The state has had to resume vaccinations, which will prevent them from getting the disease but will not permit their export to the United States. The setback means OIE certification is at least two years off for the state. Santa Catarina halted vaccinations last year and now appears to be the leading candidate for obtaining OIE certification, assuming the disease does not appear there. All other regions of Brazil still use vaccines, a practice that was due to end in 2002. It remains to be seen whether the current outbreak can be contained quickly enough to leave this timetable intact.
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Title Annotation:outbreak of foot and mouth disease puts the meat industry in jeopardy, Brazil
Publication:America's Insider
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:May 31, 2001
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