WASHINGTON – The Patagonia region of Argentina will be added to the list of regions considered free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and rinderpest, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Aug. 28. But the proposal has been met with skepticism by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

Argentina requested the Patagonia region to be recognized as FMD-free. APHIS followed up the request with an assessment which determined that FMD is not present in the Patagonia region. APHIS also found that the surveillance, prevention, and control measures implemented by Argentina in Patagonia were sufficient to minimize the risk of introducing FMD into the United States. The agency added that rinderpest has never been established in South America, and that no South American country has ever reported the disease except Brazil. But the disease was eradicated nearly a century ago.

But the NCBA said APHIS' plan to recognize the Patagonia region as FMD-free as flawed. In a statement, Bob McCan, president of NCBA, argued the plan put the health and well-being of the US cattle herd at risk.

"APHIS conducted their risk analysis based on a series of site visits to Argentina to determine the FMD risk status of these regions," McCan said. "NCBA’s repeated requests for written reports for these APHIS site visits to Argentina have gone unanswered. Finally, we were informed by APHIS that written reports are not required for APHIS site reviews. This lack of documentation and an obvious lack of management controls for the site review process calls into question the integrity and quality assurance for the entire risk analysis. Valid science-based decisions are not possible in this flawed system."

McCan added that NCBA is especially concerned about an associated proposed rule to allow chilled or frozen beef imports from Northern Argentina, which is not recognized as FMD-free. But APHIS said certain restrictions will be in place to reduce the risk of an FMD outbreak in the US.

"While the Patagonia region will be declared free of FMD, the region will be added to the list of regions that are subject to certain restrictions designed to lessen the risk of introducing FMD into the United States, in accordance with APHIS regulations," APHIS said. "These restrictions ensure that there is no commingling of products from regions with a lesser animal health status."