The South African red meat industry is very concerned about the possible economic consequences of the FMD outbreak in the north of the country. Beef farmers in Limpopo are further concerned with the apparent inertia of the authorities to contain this potential disaster.

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South Africa’s neighbouring countries, Botswana and Namibia immediately closed their borders to livestock trade, prohibiting the movement of cloven-hoofed animals and their products from South Africa. Meat trade with the EU has also came to a halt.

Since the announcement of the positive test results, farmers have had to bring quarantined animals awaiting export to Namibia and Botswana, back to their farms.

The sector fears that this outbreak may result in a financial disaster, as the previous outbreak caused losses and costs of around R6 billion. There is further concern that trade restrictions will be extended to fruit, vegetables and other crops.

Botswana has already indicated that they will restrict the import of veld grass, bedding for animals, animal manure and any possibly contaminated products from South Africa. Vehicles are refused entry if there is animal manure on the wheels.

The current outbreak of FMD was recorded outside the FMD control zone in the communal area of the Vhembe district in Venda in Limpopo. The area has been placed under quarantine, and movement of animals into or out of this area prohibited. Broken fences and limited manpower makes the enforcement of movement restrictions an enormous challenge.

The red meat industry, and the Limpopo Animal Health Forum, said that for quite some time now they had been warning the authorities about poor fencing on the northern border of SA ,and between the FMD control zone and the FMD free zone.

Willem van Jaarsveld, chairman of the Limpopo Animal Health Forum, said the biggest concern is weaknesses in systems that are in place to prevent the spread of the disease from the control zone, through the buffer zone, to the free zone

“According to the official press release, the disease was confirmed in two animals. It will however be a mammoth task to determine if those are the only two sick animals. Blood must be drawn from all animals in the contaminated area and tested to confirm that animals are not infected with FMD,” said Van Jaarsveld. There is insufficient control on animal movement to stop animals from the contaminated and controlled areas ending up at auctions. “Animals in the controlled area and in the buffer zone are ear-tagged, but we all know that it is not difficult to remove an ear tag,” Van Jaarsveld said.

Koos van der Ryst of the National Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) said the outbreak is very bad news for the red meat industry, especially in the context of the fact that the SA red meat industry is on the threshold of ensuring significant exports to countries such as China.

The RPO shared its serious concerns around the lack of capacity needed to maintain adequate FMD control measures. Despite the efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the lack of funding at provincial and national level remains a critical concern.

The RPO and the National Animal Health Forum are doing everything they can to ensure that enough funding is made available to control FMD. It is crucial that treasury, national and provincial departments of agriculture, and institutions such as the EU, are approached as possible funders. The industry will also have to be very involved.

The RPO will work with DAFF and other organisations to manage the current outbreak in a way that will create trust, so that South Africa can regain its FMD free status as soon as possible.

Van Jaarsveld said that repeated warnings to the Department about FMD control problems have been met with assurances that all control measures and procedures are in place.

The forum repeatedly pointed out that:

  • The state of international boundaries of Limpopo and border control are extremely inefficient due to dilapidated border fences.
  • Control over the movement of animals from these areas is not properly implemented. Veterinary services, the SAPD and traffic officers share this responsibility, but corruption and ignorance results in inefficiency.
  • Border fences between FMD control zones and FMD free zones are not properly maintained. Animals graze outside the control zone when grazing in the control area deterioriates.
  • Control points between FMD controlled and FMD free zones are not manned, and vehicles are therefore not sprayed with the necessary chemicals before they leave the controlled zone. This creates opportunity for the disease to spread to FMD free areas. – Andries Gouws, AgriOrbit