WASHINGTON (B)--Mexico has assured U.S. agriculture officials that it won't send any Uruguay-origin cattle to the United States, a United States Department of Agriculture official said in a written response to concerns raised recently by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Craig Reed, administrator of USDA's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, promised NCBA that "Mexico will not resell cattle from Uruguay to the United States," according to a draft copy of a letter obtained by BridgeNews.

A USDA aide, speaking on terms of anonymity, confirmed that brokers did indeed officially request to bring live cattle from Uruguay into the United States via Mexico, but it was denied.

The request, according to a letter written by the Texas Animal Health Commission, was to bring in 20,000 head of Uruguayan cattle to the United States.

Reed said in the letter to cattle industry group that USDA has "received assurances from the Mexican veterinary authorities that the Uruguayan cattle currently in Mexico are for internal consumption only and will not be exported into the United States."

He said that Mexican authorities have promised all cattle from Uruguay will be branded so that border authorities can identify them and refuse entry to the United States.

The NCBA said their main reasons for concern over the rumored Uruguayan cattle exports were possible "introduction of foreign diseases" and possible violations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The disease aspect still remains a concern, though, according to officials in USDA and the U.S. livestock industry.

"All Mexico need is a breakout of (foot and mouth disease)," an industry source said sarcastically. The source said that if Mexico allows its herds to become infected with diseases from foreign cattle, the nation's NAFTA partners will have to shut down their borders to the million head per year that Mexico exports.

A USDA official expressed a more subdued concern about Mexico's herds, saying only that "countries in trade pacts" should be very careful about what they import from non-pact countries.

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