Picture: THEO JEPTHA/Daily Dispatch
Picture: THEO JEPTHA/Daily Dispatch

SA’s trade with neighbouring countries is taking a knock with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in Limpopo, according to the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

SA’s FMD-free status was suspended after the disease was confirmed by the FMD laboratory and the matter was reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) last week.

A study conducted by the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation in 2017 found that if the country lost its FMD-free status, the economy would lose about R6bn a year. The country lost its FMD-free status in 2011 after an outbreak and only regained it in 2014, at a cost of R4bn to the economy, according to the organisation.

The outbreak of the disease in cattle in the Vhembe district of Limpopo was confirmed following reports of cattle with lameness.

“Consequently, any exports where FMD-free zone attestation is required cannot be certified,” department spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said in a statement on Monday.

“The impact this has had to trade in the past week has been devastating to say the least. 

“We have notified most of our trade partners and have started offering them assurances, especially for trade in products which do not pose a risk of transmitting the disease, such as heat-treated meat and dairy products, deboned and matured beef, scoured wool, salted hides and skins, and livestock embryos.”

Last week, the Zimbabwean government banned the import of livestock products from SA, following Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Namibia which is expected to knock SA’s multi-billion rand meat industry.

The process to regain FMD-free status is “a long process which is going to be very demanding on us,” Nkwanyana said.

“First we have to successfully contain the outbreak through movement control and vaccination, while at the same time investigating the extent of the outbreak, which is what we are currently doing. Then we must prove that it was a limited incident, through active surveillance outside of the vaccinated area,” he said.

The department will then review the FMD control strategy to ensure that it still complies with the OIE guidelines and then implement measures and conduct audits to confirm that they are adhered to.

Nkwanyana urged the industry to focus on the first line of defence, by ensuring that vaccination, robust clinical inspections of animals in the protection zones and adhering to movement-control requirements are in place to reduce the risk of infection reaching the FMD-free zone.

“There is therefore no short-cut to this, and we have to all be committed to containing and eradicating this outbreak and thereafter regaining our FMD-free zone status,” Nkwanyana said.