South Africa does not seem to pay enough attention to the threat of disease, and the Eastern Cape is highly vulnerable to outbreaks
Once again it was a full house when the Alexandria farmers met at the Overberg Agri Farmers’ Day, held at the Overberg conference centre in Alexandria last Tuesday.
The keynote speaker, Dr Pieter Vervoort, a medical doctor of the National Health Forum (NHF), addressed the issues of diseases and the catastrophic effects of the overuse of antibiotics and contamination.
As a member of the NHF, Vervoort is eminently qualified to speak on such subjects and expressed his concerns to the then (and recently reappointed) minister of agriculture, Senzeni Zokwana.
“The entire initiative [the NHF] almost fell over at this point, but was later reconstituted,” said Vervoort.
He said communication between the various sectors was the key to better management with regard to food security and safety. Despite several reports on the dangers, listeriosis was still a shock when it happened. Vervoort added that the NHF should be the facilitator of discussions between the various groups and set a strategy that could be accepted by all.
The movement of animals is also of great concern as many bring their diseases with them. Animals that have lived with certain Diseases build up at least a partial immunity, but new animals that have never encountered the disease could be seriously infected with the result that entire herds are decimated.
Buffalos are always the first animals to be infected with foot and mouth disease (FMD) and, when game parks relocate animals, buffalo take the disease along with them.
“If FMD infects domestic cattle we are all in deep trouble,” said Vervoort.
Specifically, in the Eastern Cape where there are no fences and lots of communal grazing of cattle, Vervoort said that “we should be panicking”.
Vervoort pointed to the Swine Flu epidemic that occurred in 2006 that cost well over R1-billion in cash and salaries to eliminate the disease. He said that pork is the largest consumed protein on the planet and that Swine Flu and African Swine Fever were real threats to food security and safety.
“The farmer is the first line of defence against disease,” explained Vervoort. “We need contingency plans.”
From being designated an FMD free-zone by the international agencies, three outbreaks of the disease in the north of the country were identified in January and the country’s status changed. This has a serious impact on exporting meat, even though FMD is not fatal to humans.
“There is inertia at the level of government ministries,” said Vervoort who went on to say that early detection was critical and an emergency response required to inoculate and vaccinate animals. Still, there was a further need to reduce the number of antibiotics used on animals as the bacteria or viruses responsible for the disease were becoming highly resistant to antibiotics.
“There is a requirement for more fences to be established and constant monitoring of the animals including GPS coordinates indicating the exact position and movement of cattle and establishing geographical boundaries,” he said.
Although most in attendance were cattle farmers there were also other animals such as sheep and goats that contracted these and other diseases.
Vervoort said that action needed to be taken. “There is no point in sitting around and hoping someone else will fix the problem,” he said.
Traceability was another major concern. Vervoort said that the various government departments did not talk to each other and the various sectors focussed on differences rather than their similarities. He said that productivity needed to be improved in the sector.
“There are around R60 billion of unidentified cattle in South Africa and, if not traceable they are not bankable. If there is no money there will be no food,” said Vervoort. “We need to build on what we have.”
Cattle need to be monitored and traced from birth to market and to the shop floor where customers are now asking for the origin of the meat they are eating, not only the quality.
“We have to increase communication and develop trust among government departments and the various agricultural sectors,” said Vervoort.