Japora: Brazilian ranchers demand compensation before slaughter of infected herds

Defiant ranchers said Wednesday they would not let police slaughter cattle exposed to foot-and-mouth disease unless they first were compensated for the animals killed.

Farmers and ranchers demanded payment after learning that some of the 1,050 cattle on two small ranches were infected and would be exterminated to keep the disease from spreading beyond the midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Perin said owners favored "dialogue, not confrontation," and would negotiate the price with state and federal authorities.

But owners want to avoid the wholesale slaughter at the Jangada Ranch near Eldorado, a few miles (kilometers) away. Police with handguns or rifles slaughtered at least 300 cattle infected with the highly contagious disease, and the fate of the ranch's remaining 4,000 cattle remained unclear. Federal authorities already have ordered the slaughter of more than 4,500 head of cattle.

Brazilian officials have quarantined seven municipalities in a 25-kilometer (16-mile) radius of the four ranches whose cattle have tested positive for the disease. Twelve barriers have been installed to prevent livestock and animal products from leaving the area.

Col. Joao Alves Calixto, the head of Mato Grosso do Sul's Civil Defense Service, told the 200 people at the Japora rally that the state would create a special emergency fund to handle compensation. But some ranchers were openly skeptical.

Brazil has the world's largest commercial cattle herd, estimated at 190 million head, and is the world's leading beef exporter by volume. Mato Grosso do Sul has an estimated 25 million cattle and accounts for nearly half of Brazil's beef exports, which were expected to bring in at least U$3 billion by year's end. Between January and September, Brazil exported US$2.3 billion (Ђ1.93 billion) worth of beef, up from US$1.9 billion during the first nine months of 2004.

But the outbreak of foot-and-mouth could cause Brazil to fall short of its US$3 billion (Ђ2.5 billion) export target. The European Union, Russia, Israel, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Indonesia and South Africa have imposed partial or total bans on the entry of Brazilian meat, affecting about 45 percent of Brazil's meat exports. Some analysts estimate the outbreak could cost Brazil US$900 million (Ђ754 million) in lost export revenue.

Meanwhile, animal health experts were trying to pin down the origin of the virus that caused the latest outbreak. Earlier this week, authorities blamed the outbreak on cattle smuggled from neighboring Paraguay.

Paraguayan officials denied the charges and blamed Brazil for failing to act promptly to contain the spread of the highly infectious disease that leaves cows, sheep, goats and pigs severely debilitated, but usually does not kill them. The disease does not harm humans.

The animal health department of Mato Grosso do Sul said "the main suspects" were Brazilian cattle ranchers who smuggle animals in from Paraguay to increase their herds at lower prices. Beef is cheaper in Paraguay than in Brazil, AP reports.


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