October 24, 2005

Brazil’s foot-and-mouth cattle outbreak spreading: minister

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has apparently spread to cattle in Parana state from neighboring Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil, the world's top cattle producer, the federal government's agriculture minister said on Saturday.

"It clearly is related to the original outbreak in Mato Grosso do Sul," Roberto Rodrigues told journalists. Investigators are examining an area near the Parana cities of Londrina and Toledo with 4,000 cattle spread across 40 ranches.

"About 20 head of this total showed early signs of the illness," he said. "It's not a certainty that it is foot-and-mouth, but we are 90 percent certain that they have the disease because the group of animals came from Mato Grosso do Sul," he said.

The results of laboratory tests on the cows, which were raised in Mato Grosso do Sul but recently sold to ranchers at an auction in Parana, will not be ready until Tuesday.

At least 41 countries have restricted imports of Brazilian beef since the first outbreak was discovered on October 10.

At least 5,100 head of cattle in the region will be slaughtered in and around the region of Eldorado, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil's No. 1 cattle-ranching state. But the number could climb if the quarantine area grows.

Health officials have suggested that vaccines used in the area were poorly handled or administered, making them less effective or even useless against the disease.

Ranchers have also said that the disease originated from across the nearby border in Paraguay, as all of Brazil's herd in the state has been vaccinated.

The Paraguayan government has denied this.

Brazil is the world's leading beef exporter. Its commercial cattle herd slightly outnumbers its 184 million citizens.