A concerning outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease has prompted the government to place a ban on cattle movement for 21 days. The announcement was made by Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, on Tuesday (August 16).
The ban essentially makes the movement of cattle anywhere within the country a criminal offence. The measure was taken in response to 116 outbreaks in six provinces including Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a serious and highly contagious animal disease that affects all cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, sheep,and goats. Although treatment is not provided, cattle are generally able to recover. However, the decline in production and the infectious nature of the disease often engenders mass culling.
“The clinical symptoms at this stage that we are seeing is salivation, blisters in the mouth, limping – because there’s hoof lesions. For the fact that it’s spreading so severely between animals, that is why the decision to suspend all cattle movement was made,” said Marzanne Roets, National Coordinator of The National Animal Health Forum (NAHF).
Reaction to ban on cattle movement
The ban on cattle movement was almost immediately met with stern reaction from opposition party Action SA. The party’s Eastern Cape branch urged Didiza to reconsider the decision in light of the economic consequences.
“ActionSA is inundated by complaints and outrage at this latest impulsive reaction by the minister because it threatens to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and farm workers,” said Eastern Cape provincial chairperson, Atholl Trollip.
“There are livestock auctions and breeding stock sales that happen every day in SA that are crucial to the well-being of the red meat industry and equally important to the food security chain for millions of South Africans across the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, industry experts warned that the price of meat would likely increase as a result of the ban. This would further burden consumers already struggling with inflation caused by the Covid-19 and Ukraine crisis.
Exports had come under severe restrictions prior to the ban, especially to key markets such as China.
‘No need for panic’
Roets explained that FMD is not a zoonotic disease, meaning that it does not spread to humans. She also stated that she does not foresee the need for mass culling.
“Foot and mouth disease is not a zoonotic disease. It does not affect humans so the meat is totally safe for consumption. Please still go out and get your red meat – everything is still healthy,” she said.
She added that “the cattle will still be able to move for direct slaughter so I don’t think we are going to see a big situation regarding a need for red meat”.
Furthermore, Roets said, mass culling seems unlikely at this stage as the current measures are meant only to curb the spread. At this point, there is only a ban on cattle movement.
“The strain that we’ve got in South Africa is not similar to the European strain of the disease. The European strain is quite devastating and that’s why they had the big cullings in the UK, but in South Africa it’s not necessary to do the mass cullings,” she said.