ASUNCION, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Paraguay ordered an immediate ban on beef exports Monday after detecting foot-and-mouth disease in the rural farming district of San Pedro, about 400 km north of the capital Asuncion.
The discovery was made while testing 13 cows at a farm in San Pedro, according to a team of inspectors from Paraguay's National Animal Health Inspectorate (Senacsa), raising concern in the South American country's livestock industry as to the scale of impact.
"Meat exports will be suspended for 80 days," Senacsa spokesman Manuel Cardozo said, adding sanitation authorities had been forced to issue the export ban according to standards outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo declared a health state of emergency in an area encompassing 85 km around the province of San Pedro.
Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the most contagious animal diseases known, infecting mainly cattle and pigs but also sheep and goats. Once they have been infected, animals must be slaughtered to avoid spreading the disease.
"The suspension is a prudent measure to guarantee the quality of the meat until we determine if the outbreak is present in other areas," said Carlos Simon, director of Senacsa's National Veterinary Service.
The outbreak also caused concern among the country's cattle-raising neighbors Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, with Uruguay closing its borders to Paraguayan cattle to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. Argentina and Brazil were expected to take similar measures.
"We are going to lose three months (worth of business) in which there will be zero exports," said Luis Pettengil, head of the Paraguayan Beef Chamber, adding the damage could be worth up to 400 million U.S. dollars for Paraguay's beef industry, which earned Paraguay some 650 million dollars in 2010.
The last foot-and-mouth outbreak in Paraguay occurred in 2002, when all exports were halted and the local cattle industry lost millions of dollars as well as animals.
The Rural Association of Paraguay said the suspension of beef exports could have a strong impact on Paraguay's economy. Also, about 5,000 people are employed in the meat industry sector and are at risk of losing their jobs, the Paraguayan Beef Chamber said.