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Paraguay emergency tackles cattle crisis
by Staff Writers
Asuncion, Paraguay (UPI) Jan 6, 2012

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Paraguay's low-key declaration of an emergency over cattle disease outbreaks is keeping officials busy as President Fernando Lugo battles against the odds to save the economy and salvage the landlocked nation's meat export trade.

The outbreaks, mostly said to be spreading foot-and-mouth disease on farms but causing other health complications, began last year. Prevention and recovery has been slow and decimated local rural economies in many areas, published data indicated.

Before the outbreak, Paraguay was expected to be the world's eighth largest beef exporter in 2011. Beef is the country's leading export after soybeans.

Worst hit was the district of San Pedro, about 250 miles north of Asuncion, where an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred twice last year.

Authorities began regulating movement of livestock and farmers in December, after an outbreak in September was partially contained but critics said the protective measures could have been more strict and thorough.

The government has been struggling to cope with the crisis and some reports suggest there aren't enough qualified animal health personnel available to enforce a closer monitoring of animal movements or ban livestock transfers altogether.

The government, seeking not to spread panic, declared an Animal Sanitation Emergency as an attempt to focus public attention on preventive measures to stem the spread of the cattle disease.

The National Animal Quality and Health Service, also known as Senacsa, has been scouring farms to ensure "clean" areas aren't contaminated in the process of controlling the outbreak.

San Pedro last September was the scene of another cattle disease emergency, which brought havoc to parts of Paraguay's meat industry, a major earner in both regional and international trade.

The new FMD outbreak means Paraguay will have to wait 18 months before it can win back status as an FMD-free region. Before that, Paraguay will likely have to invest millions into a wider cattle monitoring and vaccination program, industry sources said.

Of Paraguay's major customers, Brazil has issued the clearest reassurances that it is treating the outbreak sympathetically and plans to keep importing beef from Paraguayan producers except those directly affected by the disease. Chile has suspended meat imports from Paraguay.

Argentina and other member countries of the trade bloc have also slapped tough curbs. There were conflicting reports about the extent of Argentine controls on Paraguayan beef export and transit. An added complication has been Argentine restrictions on Paraguayan meat exports that pass through its territory or waterways to the outside world.

Russia, Paraguay's largest meat customer, also considered curbs but details weren't immediately available. Some reports suggested Paraguay voluntarily suspended beef exports to Russia.

The extent of neighboring nations' curbs on Paraguayan meat exports wasn't clear as countrywide controls on cattle movements continued Friday.

Paraguay Rural Association President Juan Nestor Nunez said a lot could depend on how soon the authorities could complete vaccination of the animals in the affected areas.

He criticized Senacsa for being too hasty with securing an all-clear declaration from Lugo after the September outbreak, which was in the vicinity of the latest outbreak.

"Not only did they force President Lugo into an uncomfortable situation but now we have all exports to Chile, Paraguay's best customer, definitively suspended for whoever knows for how long," Nunez said.

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