BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Fresh and frozen Argentine beef exports to the United States have been suspended temporarily over concerns of possible foot-and-mouth disease contamination, officials said Friday.

The self-imposed suspension by Argentina, the world's fourth-largest beef exporter, was taken as a preventive measure after cattle bred near the Paraguayan border were believed to be infected with the disease.

Argentine Agriculture Secretary Antonio Berhongaray said the decision to halt exports of fresh, chilled, and frozen beef would not affect Argentina's status as a country free of the disease, a designation bestowed more than a year ago.

Speaking with local news agency Diarios y Noticias, Berhongaray said ``no country had modified its sanitary status'' for Argentine beef and emphasized the move was only precautionary. He did not say when exports might resume.

In Washington, officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture said they did not expect Argentina's would be a long-lasting measure.

``We prefer to think of it as a temporary hold on imports until we can get the situation clarified,'' said Anna Cherry, a spokeswoman in the department's animal and plant health inspection service.

The decision comes after Argentina ordered some 3,000 grass-fed cattle destroyed earlier this week. Some cattle bred in grasslands close to the northern border with Paraguay had tested positive for the virus that causes foot-and-mouth, a disease that usually causes cattle to stop eating and die.

Under trade agreements, Argentina is allowed to export 20,000 tons of beef to the United States each year. Senasa President Oscar Bruni is expected to travel to Washington in the coming days to meet with agriculture officials there.