The main purpose of the Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act 35 of 1984) is to control important and dangerous animal diseases. The Act and its regulations regulate general control measures relevant to all diseases, but also contain specific control measures for certain diseases such as brucellosis.

Livestock owner’s duty to inform

Section 11 of the Act determines that livestock owners must take reasonable steps to prevent their animals from becoming infected and to prevent the spread of disease. This means an owner is not allowed to knowingly buy infected animals and bring them into his/her herd. Where treatment is possible and available, owners are obliged to treat infected animals. An owner who suspects that his/her animals are infected with a controlled disease, must report it to the responsible state veterinarian.

If an owner becomes aware of or suspects the presence of a controlled disease, the following people must be informed:

  • All his/her neighbours.
  • All prospective buyers.
  • All buyers who bought animals from him/her within the preceding 30 days.

Precautionary measures

Table 2 of the Animal Diseases Act determines that all heifers between four and eight months of age must be vaccinated with an effective vaccine against brucellosis (Strain 19 and RB51 are currently the only approved vaccines available). Strain 19 may only be used in heifers between four and eight months of age and may not be repeated. Follow-up vaccinations with RB51 in female animals may be done, but only with the written permission of the responsible state veterinarian. No bulls may be vaccinated.

Requirements for a positive herd

Animals may only be tested by a state veterinarian or official or a private veterinarian. Although it is highly recommended, it is not currently compulsory to test all cattle; this may become a legal requirement in the future. In specific circumstances, however, the Director of Veterinary Services may compel an owner to test his/her animals.

If any animals test positive, the laboratory must immediately inform the responsible state veterinarian as well as the private veterinarian. The state veterinarian will then place the farm under quarantine, which means that no susceptible or infected animals may be moved from the farm without his/her permission. A quarantine notice will be given, which will contain all the requirements that the owner will have to adhere to. These requirements may differ depending on the situation.

Every owner has a duty to isolate infected or contact animals and keep them in isolation as soon as he/she becomes aware of the presence or suspected presence of brucellosis in the herd. An owner who removes animals knowing that there are positive animals on the farm, is committing an offence in terms of the Act, even if he/she has not been placed under quarantine by the state veterinarian.

All contact animals must be tested by an official or authorised person. Animals that test negative may be vaccinated for brucellosis with the written permission of the state veterinarian. Positive cattle must be branded with a ‘C’ on the right side of their necks.

Such animals may only be slaughtered with the written permission of the state veterinarian and at an approved abattoir. Animals can only be moved to the abattoir under cover of a Red Cross permit and can only be moved to the specific abattoir indicated on the permit. Animals may under no circumstances be sold to any other person or at any other place; any person doing so is guilty of an offence in terms of the Act.

Owners must minimise contact with animals in isolation and only allow persons responsible for the care of the animals and officials responsible for implementing the control measures to have access to them.

Milk from cows that are infected or suspected to be infected with brucellosis may not be used for any purpose, unless it has been boiled, pasteurised or sterilised.

The owner has a duty to disinfect the area where infected animals were kept with an effective disinfectant, including the vehicles on which such animals have been transported. Any equipment that might have been infected must also be disinfected.

Where any control measures have been performed on the animals, the owner must keep proof thereof. Where the control measures had been done by an official or private veterinarian, the owner should request a certificate that contains the details of such measures. If an owner had performed some of the measures personally, proof can be provided by way of an affidavit accompanied by an empty container and proof of purchase, where relevant.

Role of the state veterinary services

Both national and provincial veterinary services are mandated to implement and enforce the Act. They can compel an owner to have his/her animals tested if there is any suspicion that they might be infected. Owners who refuse to cooperate or comply with the requirements, can be served with an order that compels them to take certain steps within a required period. They also have the power to enter a property or vehicle in order to conduct an inspection.

If an owner or someone acting on behalf of the owner transgress, criminal charges can be made. In special circumstances, officials can even take control of a property in order to control a disease, while the costs of the control measures will be for the owner’s account. This will, however, only apply in extreme circumstances; state veterinary services will always attempt to get owners’ cooperation first.

Voluntary test programmes

The Bovine Brucellosis Scheme (R.2483 of 9 Dec 1988) is currently in force. There is also an interim manual for the control of bovine brucellosis available, which has been compiled by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Since the bovine brucellosis control policy is currently under revision, further details will not be discussed here.

It is important to remember that the Act aims to protect both the national herd and humans against serious diseases such as brucellosis. All these control measures have been put in place to achieve this aim and not as punishment for people. By simply following the principles of disease control and prevention, it should be easy to remain within the framework of the Act. – Dr Trudie Prinsloo Van Der Heever, veterinarian and legal advisor, on behalf of the Brucellosis Steering Committee of the National Animal Health Forum.

For more information, send an email to trudie@legalvetservices.co.za. –Press release