Biosecurity: Ready, set, go for new ministerial task team

The team of four experts will put particular focus on foot-and-mouth disease which has posed great challenges particularly in Limpopo, African swine fever which has spread across eight of Mzansi's provinces in recent years and highly pathogenic avian influenza which has been seen since 2017

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A new ministerial task team on animal biosecurity has been appointed and will soon convene.

This was confirmed after agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza recently announced that a task team will be put together to tackle relevant diseases, with particular focus on foot-and-mouth disease (FDM), African swine fever (ASF) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Dr Michael Botlhe Modisane, acting deputy director-general for agricultural vaccine, health and food safety at the department (DALLRD), told Food For Mzansi that the decision on the team of experts was not only a ministerial one, but Didiza also consulted with role players in the industry.    

Experts on the task team

The team’s four experts have extensive government and international experience. They are Prof. Johann Kirsten, director of the Bureau for Economic Research (BER), Dr Kgabi Mogajane, who held different top-level roles in the DALRRD, Dr Gideon Brückner, a 47-year veteran of provincial, national and international veterinary services, and Dr Shadrack Moephuli, former chief executive of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).

Agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza set up an inter ministerial task team to handle animal biosecurity. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza set up a ministerial task team to handle animal biosecurity. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

What the task team will be doing

The task team’s main goal, according to Modisane, is to outline a system and provide recommendations on an “industry-government strategy” to address current animal biosecurity challenges. “It is an attempt to explore not only a regulatory approach to animal diseases, but also other concerns that may include private sector consideration,” he explains.

The team will need to develop and recommend realistic strategies on the implementation of animal disease management, including possibly contracting the services of private laboratories. This is since the country requires a unique approach to animal disease control, considering food security and laboratory deficiencies, for instance.

The team’s approach to FMD

Modisane says the task team will be looking at best practices that need to be implemented as the country has been battling with outbreaks of FMD particularly in Limpopo for more than two years. “With the outbreak in Limpopo we ended up involving the livestock auction systems in terms of the disease escaping the normal areas that we know it is confined to.”

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Incursions into the FMD-free zone occurred, which led to possibilities of the disease spreading to and re-establishing in “new” areas. A possible example is Kwa-Zulu Natal, where outbreaks have been reported. 

He says there is a need for “things to be done in terms of protocol”, which includes movement controls. This entails how best these movement controls can be done, when best to vaccinate and what the purpose of vaccination is.

“All those directives are there, but often when these directives are applied to people and farmers who are not used to these kinds of restrictions, it becomes very difficult.”

Modisane uses the current FMD situation in KwaZulu-Natal as an example. He says in the affected FMD areas in the province it is very difficult to impose movement controls because those affected are not used to those kinds of control. “They are used to their livestock being moved freely with very little inspections.” Their animals now need to be quarantined, which disturbs the livelihoods of many people in the affected area. 

ASF in all provinces except KZN

ASF is a disease of great biosecurity concern in South Africa as it causes great devastation in swine populations. Modisane says about ten years ago, the disease was known to be confined to particular areas in the country, especially the northern parts.  

This is due to ASF being a vector-borne disease, which is particularly transmitted through a soft tick known as Ornithodoros moubata.

Modisane says South Africa has now experienced outbreaks of ASF in almost all its provinces, except KwaZulu-Natal. It is not only a local concern as China, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are also experiencing outbreaks. He adds that locally, some commercial establishments were affected, and food security is threatened by these outbreaks. “We still don’t know what is causing this disease to spread to places where it was previously not a problem.”

Avian influenza a serious threat to food security

The first outbreak of avian influenza in South Africa was reported in 2017. “Sometimes we get low pathogenic avian influenza that interferes with production and productivity.” It is also a serious threat to food security.

Modisane says the virus migrates easily and although South Africa is approaching summer, it can almost be guaranteed that if Europe has outbreaks, they will make their way to South Africa during the next winter season. “There must be some ways in which we can avoid or reduce the impact of HPAI on the poultry industry.”

ALSO READ: New biosecurity rules: ‘Adhere or close down’

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