The dramatic increase in the recorded cases of brucellosis (Brucella abortus) in cattle in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) since 2019 is a reflection of many livestock owners’ lack of compliance with legislation, combined with government’s failure to enforce this legislation.
This was the view stated in the Bovine Brucellosis Control Policy for South Africa that was approved in July by government’s chief director for Animal Health and Production, Dr Botlhe Modisane.
Dr Alicia Cloete, a state veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, wrote in an update on the policy that as per the Animal Diseases Act 35 of 1984, brucellosis was a controlled animal disease in South Africa.
Cattle owners were therefore legally obligated to vaccinate all heifer calves between the ages of four and eight months with a registered vaccine against brucellosis.
“Currently, the risk of [this] disease is high due to very few heifers being vaccinated, very few herds being adequately tested, and a lack of movement control of potentially diseased and diseased livestock. If you do not protect your herd from this disease, you are risking the health of your animals, the health of your family and farmworkers, and the health of your business’s profitability and growth,” she said.
The policy stated that brucellosis infections in cattle caused various negative effects on the production and the reproduction of these animals.
Furthermore, being a zoonotic disease, brucellosis could be transferred from infected animals to humans via direct contact, and through improperly treated carcasses and dairy products.
A statement issued by the KZN Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said that whereas 139 cases of bovine brucellosis were recorded in the province’s cattle in 2019, this figure had increased to 423 in 2020 to date.
“[…] 70% of the cases [this year] are from the communal dip tanks in the north of the province where there is generally poor compliance with brucellosis vaccination and testing. The increase in the north is attributed to few private veterinarians, lack of resources to contain the disease, lack of compliance from livestock owners, as well as proximity to […] Mozambique and Swaziland, which have porous border security,” the statement said.
The statement added that the department had responded by initiating a brucellosis vaccination drive of all four- to eight-month-old cattle calves within the communal dip tank areas of the uMkhanyakude, King Cetshwayo, uThukela, and uMzinyathi district municipalities.
Thube Zondi, provincial secretary of the KZN chapter of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa, said he was satisfied with the department’s initial response to the increased cases of brucellosis in the province.
“We are very concerned about these cases because the festive season is coming when there will be high demand for meat. If our rural farmers are not allowed to move or sell their cattle because of brucellosis, they will lose out on income. We will keep records of any losses that they experience and will ask government to compensate them,” he said.