Paraguay bans beef exports in foot-and-mouth case

PEDRO SERVIN - Associated Press

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay banned its beef exports Monday in response to outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that could devastate its cattle industry and seriously set back the country's economy.

President Fernando Lugo also declared a sanitary emergency to help contain the outbreak of the disease, which is highly infectious in the animals, after three cows tested positive in a herd of 819 cattle in northern Paraguay.

The herd's owner, Silfrido Baumgarten, called it an accident and insisted Monday that the animals had been properly vaccinated. Now his entire herd must be destroyed as a starting point, and other herds will be sacrificed as well if it spreads.

Beef is hugely important to Paraguay, the No. 2 agricultural export after soy and a major source of jobs and income. The country sold 170,000 tons of beef last year, generating $800 million. Most of the exports went to Chile, followed by Russia, Israel and 67 other countries.

The government and the rural association put up barriers around the district of Sargento Loma, where the outbreak occurred. The area is in north-central Paraguay, with no direct access to any border.

"We immediately suspended beef sales to the exterior. In the next 60 days we will proceed with containing the zone, controlling the exit of all kinds of animals and vehicles," said Carlos Simons, who directs the animal health service. "To begin with, the 819 cattle will be sacrificed."

Paraguay won't be able to end this export ban until the world's animal health commission considers the case twice, at meetings next January and September in Paris, so the measure will likely last an entire year, Simons added.

"This outbreak, I acknowledge, will enormously damage the country's economy," Baumgarten said, explaining that in the immediate area surrounding his ranch, 139,000 producers generate 40 percent of Paraguay's annual beef exports. In all, Paraguay's herd totals 12 million head of cattle and 21 slaughterhouses are employed to prepare them for export.