Foot-and-mouth: Eastern Cape takes biosecurity seriously, Western Cape on alert

7 June 2024

By: Lloyd Phillips

After the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the Eastern Cape, organised agriculture and animal health authorities are emphasising the importance of strict biosecurity among red meat producers.

Organised agriculture and animal health authorities are reportedly working around the clock to control the recent foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in parts of the Eastern Cape. 

Urgent efforts include identifying and quarantining affected farms, vaccinating livestock on and around these farms, tracing the origin of outbreaks and educating as many red meat producers as possible to improve their biosecurity protocols.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) said in a statement on Wednesday that since April 30 there have been FMD outbreaks on five farms in the Humansdorp district and one in the East London district. The two districts are about 370 km apart.

Frik van Rooyen, chairman of the Eastern Cape Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO), says many of the province’s livestock farmers fear that if FMD spreads further it could lead to one or more large disease management areas being established by animal health authorities, similar to the one in KwaZulu-Natal.

This would prohibit the movement of FMD-susceptible livestock out of such areas, potentially resulting in significant financial implications for commercial red meat producers.

“So far, it seems that efforts to combat the existing outbreaks in the Eastern Cape are going well,” Van Rooyen told African Farming. “I have not received any reports of new outbreaks and farmers are taking their biosecurity measures more seriously. The key to preventing the spread of the disease is to have 100% biosecurity measures in place.

“What we still need to determine is where these outbreaks in the Eastern Cape originated. It is also frustrating that some of the animals that tested positive for FMD show no physical symptoms of the disease.”

According to the statement, a full epidemiological investigation is under way to identify the possible origin and any other properties that might be at risk. 

Livestock owners and managers were reminded in the statement that they are legally obliged under section 11 of the Animal Diseases Act (Act 35 of 1984) to take all reasonable steps to prevent their animals from becoming infected with any disease and to prevent their animals from spreading any disease.

“In accordance with this, a regulation was prescribed by the minister in October 2022 that livestock with cloven hooves may only be moved if they are accompanied by a health declaration from the owner of the livestock. This declaration must attest to the health of the livestock at the time of their movement,” the department’s statement said.

“Additionally, all cattle, sheep and goats newly brought onto a farm must be kept separate from the farm’s own herds and flocks for at least 28 days.”

Western Cape also prepared

With only about 100 km between Humansdorp and the Western Cape, red meat producers in this province are on high alert.

According to Jaco van den Berg, chairman of the Western Cape RPO, risk mitigation guidelines have been distributed to as many of the province’s red meat producers as possible. A high-level strategic meeting between Western Cape government authorities, organised agriculture and all key stakeholders in the province’s red meat value chain is scheduled for Friday.

“We are encouraged by the quick response and efforts by animal health authorities in the Eastern Cape to contain the recent FMD outbreaks, compared to previous outbreaks,” Van den Berg told African Farming.

“Nonetheless, red meat producers in the Western Cape must remember that biosecurity starts with each producer on their own farm. It is the sole responsibility of each individual. Every producer must first get their own house in order.”

According to the most recent national report on FMD outbreaks from Dr Mpho Maja, director of animal health at the DALRRD, there are 175 active outbreaks of the disease in areas outside permanent FMD control zones. Since 2021, there have been 246 such outbreaks.

Although there have been outbreaks in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West since 2021, they have all been brought under control and closed. Ongoing confirmed outbreaks stand at 130 in KwaZulu-Natal, 21 in the Free State and six in the Eastern Cape.

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