When thinking of South American beef, Brazil and Argentina usually come to mind. But for some reason, USDA at the moment is focused on the lesser-known Paraguay. And USDA is doing so by knocking down concerns about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), the highly infectious and sometimes fatal viral illness.

Paraguay, known officially as the Republic of Paraguay, is landlocked and is bordered by Argentina to the south and southwest, Brazil to the east and northeast, and Bolivia to the northwest.

Paraguay has a population of just 7 million, with nearly 3 million living in the capital and largest city of Asunción, and the surrounding metro region.

A national election next month could see communist China push Taiwan out of Paraguay’s favor.

Nevertheless, USDA has decided now is the time to rule that fresh beef can be safely imported from Paraguay under certain conditions, which include verifying that foot and mouth disease (FMD) has not been diagnosed in the exporting region in the last 12 months. According to USDA, fresh beef comes from premises where FMD has not been present during the lifetime of the animals.

The animals were inspected before and after death, and at other times.

In its proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, the USDA proposes amending specific regulations to permit chilled or frozen fresh beef from Paraguay for import to the United States.

“Based on the evidence from a risk analysis, we have determined that fresh beef can safely of imported from Paraguay, provided certain conditions are met,” the USDA says in its rule-making documents. “This action would provide for the importation of fresh beef from Paraguay into the United States while continuing to protect the United States against the introduction of foot-and-mount disease.”

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is accepting comments on the Paraguay plan until May 26, 2023. APHIS will address all the comments in the final rule.

USDA does not recognize the exporting region as FMD-free but is counting on the fact that Argentina, Brazil, and Uraguay all require that cattle be vaccinated for the disease. “Historically, trade in fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Paraguay has not been allowed because APHIS has considered Paraguay a country affected with FMD,” the Federal Register announcement continues.

APHIS is essentially allowing Paraguay to follow the conditions imposed on the larger exporting region. Its change of heart is based on the risk analysis for Paraguay. Some of the work dates back to APHIS site visits that occurred from 2008 through 2014.

APHIS “concluded that Paraguay has a sound system for animal identification and traceability, premise registration, and animal movement controls.” It found the system “adequate” for U.S. import requirements

Chile is the only South American country that is FMD-free, according to APHIS.

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