SAO PAULO, Brazil (B)--Brazil's Agriculture Minister Pratini de Moraes admitted Aug. 25 that the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul would delay talks to open up the U.S. market to Brazilian fresh and chilled beef exports, local wires reported Aug. 25. He added that if all the appropriate steps were taken Brazil's southern states could be declared foot-and-mouth disease free in 90 days.

"Its unfortunate, but there will definitely be a delay in talks with the United States over this issue," the minister declared.

Rio Grande do Sul farmers had hoped to export chilled beef into the United States by the second half of 2000, but the minister admitted this would have to be put back indefinitely.

However, the Agriculture Minister noted that beef exports to the United States and Europe will not be significantly affected.

He pointed out that the majority of Brazilian beef exports are processed and therefore free of foot and mouth risk. Brazil exported 600,000 tonnes of beef in 1999, mainly to Europe, and was expected to export a similar amount in

2000.

Pratini said that all necessary measures would be taken by the federal government to stamp out the disease in the area. He said that he trusted that local governments, which he noted at times were very inefficient, would aid in this effort so that Brazil could pronounce the region foot-and-mouth free without vaccination in the space of 90 days.

On Aug. 24, the International Epizoological Organization (OIE) stripped the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina of their status as foot-and-mouth free. The federal government on Aug. 25 passed a series of measures designed to prevent the spread of foot and mouth in the area. No cattle, hogs or beef will be allowed out of the districts which registered the disease. Only boned or mature beef is allowed to leave Rio Grande do Sul state and a quarantine will be imposed on all cattle leaving the neighboring state of Santa Catarina. Pratini also said that he suspected foul play in the contamination of the Rio Grande do Sul cattle, although he drew back from pointing the finger.

"We have not seen foot-and-mouth in Rio Grande do Sul since 1993. The case is very suspect and deserves to be investigated," he declared. A state of sanitary emergency was declared in the affected districts of Rio Grande do Sul Thursday after 28 head of cattle were found infected. In total, 216 cattle and six hogs have been or will be destroyed.

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