Brazil says FMD impact limited

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Reuters

Brazil’s Agriculture Minister on Sunday said the first cases of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the country since August were worrying and tarnished the infected area’s image, but should have a limited impact on beef exports.

Earlier, the minister’s spokesman confirmed a cow had been found in the key southern ranching state of Rio Grande do Sul, near the border with Uruguay, which had all the symptoms of the financially devastating livestock disease.

Local media reported that at least another 11 cases of the disease, which causes blisters, fever, and sometimes death in cattle, pigs, sheep and other cloven-hoofed animals, had been detected in the same area.

Minister Vinicius Pratini de Moraes told local Globo TV that Brazil’s beef exports would not be greatly affected as the meat from the area was mostly used to produce cooked products whose sale was unaffected by the disease.

A small but growing export of off-the bone beef from the area would be “affected over a certain period,” he said, but it was the government’s implementation of foot-and-mouth vaccinations in the area that could cause the most damage.

Rio Grande do Sul state stopped vaccinating cattle in April 2000 and was the closest state in the country to winning a coveted “foot-and-mouth free without vaccination” status from the Paris-based International Epizootic Office (OIE).

The immunization scheme, “will without a doubt affect the status of the Rio Grande do Sul circuit,” Pratini de Moraes said.

Globo said 4.5 million of the state’s 13 million herd would be vaccinated. Agriculture ministry officials could not be contacted to confirm the report.

While humans are not considered to be at risk from the disease, foot-and-mouth can devastate a country’s livestock industry as it has in Britain as some countries refuse to import farm goods from nations with infected herds.

The rest of Brazil’s 167 million head of cattle, the world’s largest commercial herd, are still going through a vaccination program which aims to make the country foot-and-mouth immunization free by 2005.

“It won’t affect the rest of the country which is still using vaccinations,” Pratini de Moraes said.

The minister did provide some relief to ranchers by saying only sick animals would be destroyed. Some 11,000 head were slaughtered to contain the August outbreak in the state.

Brazil has mounted a huge military and medical operation to try to protect its southern ranching areas from foot-and-mouth infection from neighboring Uruguay and Argentina which are both fighting outbreaks.

Brazil currently has a ban on live animals, beef products and animal reproductive material from Uruguay and Argentina.