US Veterinarians Wary of Mexican Inspection Facility


(Dow Jones) — Mexican cattlemen opening a state-of-the-art inspection facility intended to speed livestock exports are facing a problem: U.S. veterinarians fear traveling to the complex.

The U.S. government inspectors in charge of checking the animals for dangerous diseases before the cattle are shipped north say they are afraid to show up at the inspection station south of the border near Laredo, Texas, because of drug-cartel-related violence.

“These folks are scared skinny,” said Bill Hughes, a lawyer for National Association of Federal Veterinarians, which represents the inspectors, who are employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “They don't want to go.”

Officials from the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service met with the concerned veterinarians on Thursday to brief them on safety measures at the new cattle pens located in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, about two miles from the U.S. border.

The pens, which cover close to 100 acres, are protected by high-security fencing and an adjacent military garrison with armed soldiers. There is also a safe room with direct communication to the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, about 30 miles to the southeast, where personnel can take shelter in case of a threat.

The U.S. State Department recommends that Americans defer nonessential trips to Nuevo Leon, where there has been drug violence, and prohibits personal travel by government employees on highways in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas “due to the risks posed by armed robbery and carjacking.”

Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said it had “direct input” on the security measures at the new facility, and that officials from the service deem the veterinarians' assignment to be low risk. “We really want to make sure that we're not putting them in a situation where they are either uncomfortable or unsafe,” she said of the veterinarians.

Adrian de la Garza, president of the Regional Cattlemen's Union of Nuevo Leon, which owns the new inspection station, said the veterinarians' worries are based on misinformation about violence in the area.

The facility is in a special trade zone and nearby roads are mainly traveled by hundreds of trucks ferrying goods to and from Mexico. “We're not in a conflict zone,” he said.

Concerns over drug-cartel wars south of the border have eroded routine business travel to parts of northern Mexico. This is complicating the logistics of trade, and forcing companies and government agencies in both countries to come up with alternatives to maintain the flow of merchandise.

For years, U.S.-bound Mexican cattle were inspected on the southern side of the border to keep diseases and pests from entering the U.S. But in 2010, with violence rising in Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture moved examinations in several border ports of entry to pens on the U.S. side. Mexico is the largest foreign supplier of cattle to the U.S.

The American facilities were meant to be temporary. They are generally smaller than those in Mexico, and the screenings usually take more time because the animals have to be loaded and unloaded on both sides of the border, industry experts say.

U.S. cattle imports from Mexico rose 16{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} last year, to 1.4 million. The drought in the U.S., which has hit the domestic cattle industry hard, has led to increased purchases this year, Mr. Wilson said.

For the first six months, imports averaged more than 140,000 heads of cattle a month, according to government data.

The Agriculture Department, which has the final say on whether the U.S. inspectors would be sent to the facility in Nuevo Leon, hasn't yet made a decision.

Source:  Dow Jones

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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