SA bans transport of cattle to curb foot-and-mouth disease outbreak

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Government has announced a national ban on moving cattle to curb the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, which is among the world’s most infectious animal illnesses. 

Cattle may not be moved from one property to another for a period of 21 days. The suspension will be reviewed weekly.

There will be exceptions, including if there is a veterinary permit for direct slaughter at registered abattoirs and for slaughter for ritual purposes.

"Cattle that are already at shows, auctions and en route into the republic will be given 48 hours to be permitted to move to final destination after being sold. The local state veterinary office should be contacted for these permits," Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said in a statement on Tuesday.

The country is currently experiencing 116 incidents of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), involving farms, feedlots and communal areas in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State.   

The ban is only applicable to cattle, as this was identified as the main cause of the continued spread of the disease. However, cloven hoofed animals can spread FMD, and the movement of sheep, goats, pigs and cloven hoofed game animals should also be handled with the necessary caution, said Didiza.  

"It's a very drastic intervention," said Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede, adding that the severity of FMD probably justifies a total ban from government's perspective. From a farmer's perspective this will definitely have an impact on their livelihoods.

However, government should have acted much sooner – which would have prevented it from spreading it to the current extent, said Van der Rheede. This would have prevented a total ban.

"We cannot emphasise enough that there should have been stringent action earlier in specific areas to prevent the spread – because once it spreads then we sit with the problems we have currently," said Van der Rheede.

The ban will be declared in the Government Gazette, and any disregard for it will be regarded as a criminal offence. 

Earlier this year, government announced that there were dozens of cases in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Gauteng.

Movement restrictions were put in place in some areas to prevent the further spread of FMD.

While usually not lethal, the disease causes blisters and can cause death in some animals. It is not readily transmissible to humans, and does not cause serious illness. According to the World Association for Animal Health, it is not a public health risk.

In April this year, China imposed a ban on wool exports from SA following outbreaks of FMD in parts of the country. The local wool industry estimates it has so far lost an estimated R734 million in wool exports to China.

AJ Mthembu, president of the African Farmers Association (Afasa) says the ban will have a dire effect, especially on black farmers in KwaZulu-Natal who are still trying to find their feet after the impact of the unrest in the region last year. as well as floods.

He says the market for black farmers is usually at auctions, which are now impacted by the ban.

"We understand the significance of understanding the bigger picture of having to suffer for now to make sure the situation is better in future. FMD must be curbed or it will create even more damage," says Mthembu.

He is also concerned by the impact the outbreak has had on exports, with some neighbouring countries already indicating they do not want to accept product from SA.

"In any event, if we do not do something quickly, the impact gets bigger and bigger all the time. We think the ban is a good decision. Maybe it could have come earlier, but we understand that maybe the expectation was that it would work itself out," he says.

* This article was updated with comment by Afasa.

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