Opinion piece appeared in El Observador Agropecuario.
By Pedro Silva
Uruguayans sheep producers are close to a dream fulfillment: The United States authorization to export bone-in sheep meat. It is the most valuable meat and the best paid. It will be an effort finally fulfilled through hard work, the result of political and economic good relations between USA and Uruguay.
Until now the sale of lamb meat to US markets was a forbidden desire and referred to a bad memory: the reappearance of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Uruguay at the start of the years 2000’. In April 2001 all meat markets –the country’s main export- were closed to Uruguay.
After the national commotion –the situation deeply affected production and economics- followed a clear decision to revert the situation with genuine and transparent procedures. Uruguay was not ashamed to tell the world that it suffered the illness and to notify all the steps the country was taking.
In that way the country started a cattle individual tracking system as a sanitary tool, which now has evolved as a business advantage. In those moments the United States helped with financial support –Uruguay was immersed in a major economic crisis- and trust, and started to buy meat again.
Finally the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared Uruguay as a FMD free country where vaccination is practiced and the markets started to open again, with the exception of countries were this sanitary condition is not accepted. The most rigorous countries like United States, Korea and Japan only accept meat from countries that are FMD free and vaccination is not practiced.
Sheep cattle did not suffered from FMD in Uruguay and the fact was important to demonstrate that the virus is not longer present in the country. Is one of the arguments introduced before the European Union, one of the country most valuable business partners. In the last decade and a half, Uruguay pointed to the U.S. to open their markets.
In 2013, Edward Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture, arrived to Uruguay and agreed with Uruguayan minister of Cattle and Agriculture Tabaré Aguerre to open US markets to boneless lamb meat. The same day, Aguerre revealed a petition looking to export also bone-in product.
There are no overnight procedures in business. Everything takes time, dedication, seriousness in the procedures and good relation between actors. Uruguay presented before the OIE an initiative based on norms approved by the organization, but unprecedented in the world: to produce sheep meat in isolated compartments with biosecurity guarantees, in a double perimeter without contact with bovines, reassuring the product innocuousness.
The first historic deed was the initial shipment of boneless sheep meat into the U.S. in February 2014. Eleven tons of Premium loin, steak, and lamb legs from Frigorífico San Jacinto, that arrived in March 13 to the Port of Philadelphia. In 60 days this achievement could be repeated, but with bone-in lamb meat.
Source: El Observador