Impact of FMD on South African Exports and the Need for Stricter Control Measures

  • Karan Beef

    The export of beef, wool, and other commodities has been negatively affected by the recent outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Limpopo, Gauteng, the North West, and the Free State with China reinstating a ban on the import of any cloven-hoofed animals or by-products from South Africa. KARAN BEEF, South Africa’s trusted supplier of quality beef products ensures that consumers have no reason to be concerned about the safety and wholesomeness of beef products that enter the retail market as beef producers in South Africa follow strict regulations. Further reassurance is that cattle FMD cannot be transferred to humans. As South Africa’s beef export industry is still maturing, any FMD outbreaks and international import bans can have long-lasting effects on the development of the beef industry, requiring stricter controls to stop the spread of FMD.

    KARAN BEEF Head Veterinarian Dr Dirk Verwoerd explains that there are two main families of FMD. Exotic types (Asia, A, and O types) are cattle-specific and do not occur in Southern Africa. These are the ones that cause significant disease signs, are highly contagious, and form the basis of the stringent international control measures dictated by the OIE-World Organisation for Animal Health. Southern African Types (SAT) originate from buffalo and are endemic to Southern Africa, specifically near conservations areas. SAT FMD is not as contagious as Exotic types and has fewer disease signs. “Unfortunately, all variations of FMD trigger the same statutory control measures,” explains Dr Verwoerd. “This is a very outdated approach and there is a strong consensus amongst scientists, private red meat industries, and producers that a different set of control measures [that are] appropriate to the significant differences between the characteristics of SAT and Exotic FMD are urgently needed.”

    As FMD is a state-controlled disease, the responsibility to control the disease falls to the state. This includes vaccination programmes and controlling the movement of livestock from FMD hotspots. Since South Africa lost its OIE FMD-free status in 2019, there have been growing calls from the private sector to open up FMD testing and vaccine manufacturing by accredited labs and manufacturing facilities to slow the spread of the disease and restore South Africa’s FMD-free status.

    At KARAN BEEF, the prevention of FMD is largely focused on livestock movement control and strict tracing of livestock from all breeders. KARAN BEEF has eight established holding stations in their major cattle procurement areas where cattle undergo an adaption and preparation phase before being transported to the main feedlot at Heidelberg. All the cattle purchasers at KARAN BEEF evaluate cattle before they are transported to the holding stations or the Heidelberg Farm. At every stage, a team of trained and experienced staff and managers monitor and evaluate the cattle under veterinary supervision. Any deviations in cattle health are noted immediately and rectified as soon as possible. Once at the Heidelberg Farm, specifically trained teams monitor the cattle daily, keeping a close eye on their health, to ensure that all KARAN BEEF cattle are free of FMD or any other disease.

    The Future of Controlling FMD in South Africa

    According to Dr Verwoerd, there are a few crucial steps government needs to take to help control the spread of FMD. “The first government objective should be to get the measures in the Control and Surveillance zones working effectively again. At the same time, new endemic foci such as Vhembe and a specific node near Potchefstroom should be ring vaccinated along with the slaughter of all positive cases,” Dr Verwoerd avers. The control measures should also include returning to preventative vaccination programmes in the FMD endemic areas using locally produced vaccines that are regularly matched to the circulating variations in the Kruger National Park.

    However, it will not be an easy battle. Many communal and subsistence farmers are battling a variety of diseases and face other economic hardships, making educational programmes ineffective without proper law enforcement. “Under the realities of the current situation in South Africa, compliance to FMD control measures will only occur if there is a partnership between the state, private sector and cattle owners with tangible benefits to all,” Dr Verwoerd concludes.

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