While much was made of the economic and social impact caused by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in England in 2001, much less was heard about FMD outbreaks in Argentina and Uruguay during the same period. But South America is home to the world's largest share of cattle, which makes it the greatest potential reservoir of FMD virus.

During last week's U.S. Animal Health Association meeting in Minneapolis, Phil Bradshaw, an Illinois pork producer and the North American Private Sector Representative to the Inter-American Group for the Eradication of FMD, reported on the initiative to eliminate FMD from the Western Hemisphere.

The goal is to eradicate FMD from the Americas (with vaccine usage permitted in South America) by the end of 2009. Bradshaw said it's a formidable challenge, requiring at least 90% of all South American cattle to be vaccinated. He said the primary problems are commitment and administration.

Among the most contagious viruses known to man, FMD was last seen in the U.S. in 1929, in Canada in 1952, and in Mexico in 1954. In 1981, Chili was declared free of FMD without vaccination and, in 1994, Uruguay achieved the same status, but lost it in 2001.

Reported infections in South America have ranged from greater than 4,300 in 2001 (mostly in Argentina and Uruguay) to 78 in 2005 (in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela). Peru reported 26 cases in 2004 but none in 2005 or 2001-2003.

Bolivia and Paraguay haven't reported any cases during the 2004-2005 period though infection was reported before then. Bradshaw said that because surveillance quality may not be good, there are undoubtedly more cases than those recorded.
-- USAHA release