Livestock production: Safety and handling meat from diseased animals

Question: Can livestock that died due to a disease be eaten by people?

There are some diseases that only affect livestock or a specific type of livestock, for example foot and mouth disease that only affect cloven hoofed livestock. But then there are also many diseases like Rift Valley fever and anthrax that can affect all animals as well as humans.

Both these diseases will kill livestock before they even show signs of disease (acute deaths), so livestock owners will only see dead animals in this case and would not have any idea what could have caused the deaths.

The way in which these diseases are transmitted to people is when the carcass of the dead animal is cut open and the person gets into contact with the blood or other excretions from the dead animals’ body. The germs will then be transmitted through wounds in the skin or the membranes of the mouth, nose or skin.


The act of cutting open a dead animal (post mortem examination) that died acutely of an unknown disease must only be done by an animal health technician or veterinarian wearing the correct protective clothes.

In the case of animals dying of Rift Valley Fever the chance is nearly 100% that people cutting the animal open without protective clothing will contract the virus. If an animal died of anthrax many of the people eating meat from that animal will also contract the disease because the bacteria causing this disease are not killed by cooking the meat.

So, a general and very important rule is never to cut an animal open or eat the meat of an animal that has died very suddenly. Inform a veterinary professional or discard of the body by burning it or burying it in a hole that is more than 1.5 m deep.

  • This article was written by Dr. Danie Odendaal from Pfizer and first appeared in Farming SA.

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