Despite some reports doing the rounds that foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is under control, industry players believe it is still rife and posing a significant threat to the beef industry at large.
“Task teams and information sessions are being held to help stakeholders better manage the disease, but we continue to hear of outbreaks,” says Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at the Beefmaster Group. “The threat that FMD poses to the cattle industry is tremendous, and we urge all role players to act responsibly.”
The Beefmaster Group issued a press statement late last week, saying that very little information is being released but that three new cases of FMD were reported in central South Africa. In one of those cases, the outbreak was confirmed as a result of the movement of animals.
“There is a perception that FMD is no longer posing a threat. But the reality is that FMD is still rife,” says veterinary surgeon Dr Shaun Morris. “What we are seeing on the ground is evidence of disease. It is a massive problem.”
He says that the predominant strain of the virus in circulation is the SAT 3 virus, based on serological results obtained.
“The problem is that the virus induces very mild clinical signs in cattle that are exposed to the virus and it may be that, if a person is not aware of what signs to look for, the disease may go unnoticed in a herd of cattle.”
Van Reenen adds that, if FMD is not brought under control, the ramifications for the entire industry are dire. “All industry role players need to take seriously their responsibility to help limit the spread of the disease as much as possible, as we cannot expect government authorities alone to clamp down on it. We simply have to stop it from spreading further.”
Don’t move animals unnecessarily
Van Reenen says that one way to help curb the spread of FMD, is to limit the movement of cattle and, when buying cattle, to insist on veterinary inspections and sign-off.
Morris adds that provincial veterinary departments are doing ongoing surveillance to determine how far and wide the disease has spread, as only with this information will all parties be able to control “a disease that is certainly not under control at this stage”.
Van Reenen adds that many industry role players have already gone to great lengths at feedlots and farms to try to limit or prevent the outbreak of disease, for example with the installation of bubble or isolation hubs, but more can be done.
“If procuring cattle from large gatherings, one way to mitigate the potential of disease outbreak is to insist on biosecurity measures. This may include investigating the biosecurity measures that are in place at the gathering as well as insisting that cattle are quarantined for certain periods – a minimum of 28 days – and signed off as healthy and disease free by only qualified vets.”
Van Reenen says the biggest challenge is complacency and continuing as if there is no immediate threat or danger.
Biosecurity needs to be very tight
“We cannot continue to do business without robust biosecurity in place. It is no longer safe to rely on relationships or history and to say ‘I know where my cattle comes from because I’ve been buying from this place for many years’. No one is safe from FMD and the only way we are going to tackle it is if we are serious and accept that we need strict measures in place,” says Van Reenen.
He adds that this is especially true given that beef is being touted to be a major future contributor to the red meat industry’s growth, which is expected to add more than R12 billion to South Africa’s annual agricultural GDP by 2030.
“The beef industry has been focussed on opening up new markets for our products over the last few years. We cannot afford to lose these export markets, as well as potential new ones, because of the risk of FMD.
In March 2022, the latest FMD outbreak in South Africa resulted in China suspending imports from South Africa of all cloven-hoofed animal goods, including wool, beef and other red meat products.
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