SA’s agriculture industry in crisis

Foot-and-mouth disease could lead to crippling red meat bans.

South Africa’s agriculture industry faces economic destruction from a bio-security threat if steps are not taken to eradicate a fast-spreading animal disease that has already cost the country R15-billion over the past three years.

Three provinces – Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal – and the Kruger National Park have been declared foot-and-mouth infectious zones and led to the Agriculture Department announcing emergency meetings with farming communities in the affected areas.

In the current outbreak, 500 000 head of cattle in the three provinces are infected with the disease, according to the department. It is unclear how many goats, sheep and pigs are infected.

Although not deadly to humans, foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious, affecting cloven-hoofed animals including cows, goats, sheep, pigs and buffalo, and spreads through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles and feed.

Containment of the disease requires strict monitoring, trade restrictions, quarantines and, in some cases, the mass slaughter of animals.

A nearly three-year trade ban on exports of South African red meat, beginning in 2011 and lifted last year, saw the country lose about R15-billion in export revenue.

Now its meat exports are under threat again as the European Union and China will send inspection teams to South Africa this month to determine the extent of the disease’s containment and eradication, and the safety of the meat products.

If they are unsatisfied with South Africa’s response to the outbreak, export bans are likely.

“It is now or never. We have no option. We cannot lose this battle,” Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana said yesterday.

– Graeme Hosken

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