Six Argentinean provinces have reported cases of foot and mouth, the animal sickness that is currently sweeping western Europe, creating a scare among Chilean authorities and consumers that the disease could cross the Andes and infect national herds.

Although the Argentine government has yet to inform its Chilean counterpart of the outbreak, Chilean authorities are already concerned that the disease will affect Argentine meat exports. The majority of Chile’s meat imports come from Argentina, which last year supplied Chile with 30,367 tons of beef.

In recent days, the search for the source of the outbreak in Europe has focused on Argentina. “Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the Argentine government continues to maintain that it has not recorded a single case of foot-and-mouth disease in the last 12 months,” said an editorial in the British newspaper The Times.

But the newspaper said at least 300 cases have been reported this week alone in the Argentine provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba and La Pampa.

SNA Development Manager Gustavo Rojas strongly criticized the Argentine government’s stance and its refusal to share information that could prevent the disease from infecting Chilean livestock.

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By Steve Anderson, correspondent