Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

The government has lifted the ban on cattle auctions which was put in place in 2019, saying the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that had necessitated it has been contained.

Foot-and-mouth can infect people through skin wounds or the mucous membranes in the mouth after handling infected stock, or by drinking infected milk. But it is not introduced by eating meat from infected animals. Generally, infection of humans is temporary and is not considered a major public health hazard.

The disease broke out in Limpopo in 2019, resulting in the World Organisation for Animal Health temporarily suspending SA’s disease-free zone status. Neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini and Mozambique announced a ban on SA meat imports pending the containment of the disease.

After the outbreak of the disease, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development placed a ban on cattle auctions in the country in a bid to limit livestock movement, a move which some in the agriculture sector opposed. A group of at least 50 emerging farmers planned to approach the courts to force minister Thoko Didiza to lift the nationwide ban on livestock gathering and auctions.  

“I am aware of the social and economic impact this decision [ban] had on livestock owners, traders and the general sector stakeholders. I want to reassure the nation that this decision [to ban] was not taken lightly and was implemented as a disease control measure,” Didiza said. There are preconditions for the resumption of auctions, though, she added.

“Auctions will only be conducted under stringent conditions. All livestock agents must be registered with the Agricultural Produce Agents Council [Apac],” Didiza said during a news conference on Monday. Lifting the ban on gathering animals does not imply that such activities are safe. All auctioneers should familiarise themselves with measures to prevent their animals from becoming infected, she said. In addition, all Apac certificates issued before March 2018 had lapsed and renewal should be done by the end of March 2020.

“I therefore encourage all livestock and game traders to contact the Apac for reregistration before resuming with their businesses,” the minister said.

“I wish to remind all livestock keepers of their responsibilities in terms of section 11 of the Animal Diseases Act, 1984, that any owner or manager of land on which there are animals take all reasonable steps to prevent the infection of the animals with any animal disease, or parasite and the spreading thereof from the relevant land or animals,” Didiza said.

DA MP Noko Masipa welcomed the lifting of the ban, but said the government’s response to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak had been lacking from the start and “requires much more than just the banning or unbanning of livestock auctions”.

Paul Makube, a senior agricultural economist at FNB, said the lifting of the ban on livestock auctions is a welcome relief for producers, auctioneers, feedlots and other stakeholders across the value chain. The market can now return to normality and correct the supply imbalance that was caused by the ban, he said.

“The speed at which the country has dealt with the foot-and-mouth disease, both with the resumption of exports in 2019 and the lifting of the ban on auctions in the announcement today is commendable,” Makube said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za