End to SA meat export ban in sight

By Drum Digital
19 February 2014

South Africa has met international conditions to recover its foot and mouth disease-free status, paving the way for meat export bans to be lifted.

South Africa has met international conditions to recover its foot and mouth disease-free status, paving the way for meat export bans to be lifted, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday.

"[I'm] delighted to confirm that the International Scientific Commission [for Animal diseases] has concluded that South Africa... thus qualifies for the recovery of its status as country where FMD vaccination is not practised," Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told reporters at Parliament.

The government would now enter into negotiations with the former importers' regulatory authorities, including the European Union and neighbouring African states, to secure the lifting of restrictions on South African meat products, said Mpho Maja, the agriculture department's director for animal health.

Asked how long it would take to conclude the talks and for full exports to resume, Maja could not give a definite answer.

"That is like asking how long is a piece of string," she said.

Restrictions have been in place since February 2011 when there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle in KwaZulu-Natal, costing the country some R3 billion in lost exports a year.

Maja said the source of the outbreak had never been discovered, and a theory that it came from Mozambique was unfounded because fences between South Africa and its northern neighbour were found to be intact.

Joemat-Pettersson said the department was implementing safeguards to assure international regulators "of our seriousness in dealing with foot and mouth disease" in future.

This includes rebuilding the country's capacity to produce vaccines and strengthening borders to prevent infected animals from entering the country.

"Construction work on a vaccine production facility is at an advanced state and once completed will significantly strengthen our disease management systems."

The department revealed that South Africa had become fully reliant on vaccine imports from Botswana in recent years, importing some half-a-million units annually.

Maja said facilities at the Agricultural Research Council had by 2005 "unfortunately deteriorated" to the point where it could no longer supply vaccines.

However, Treasury has given R500 million to upgrade the facility, and it should be producing vaccines again by year's end, she added.

"We are hoping that by the end of the year we will be able to produce some quantities that we could use locally and start weaning ourselves off from the imports from Botswana." - Sapa

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