DAFF seeks to regain industry trust

DAFF chief veterinary officer Dr Mike Modisane spoke candidly to Lloyd Phillips about the broken trust between his department and organised agriculture.

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South Africa’s government veterinary services wants to regain the trust of the country’s multi-billion rand private livestock and wildlife sectors.

This follows a nearly three-year period of increasing distrust on the back of perceptions that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) leadership has wilfully kept livestock and game farmers in the dark about certain key issues. The most prominent is how, if at all, the government veterinary service has been going about getting South Africa’s foot-and-mouth disease-free status reinstated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Questions have also been asked about DAFF’s effectiveness in managing wider animal health issues nationally.

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DAFF’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Mike Modisane, told Farmer’s Weekly that much of the current distrust was a result of miscommunication and misunderstandings between DAFF and the Red Meat Industry Forum, as well as other private livestock industry representative organisations. It started in early 2011 when the OIE withdrew South Africa’s FMD-free status, following the discovery of FMD antibodies in livestock in northern Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal.

According to Modisane, the issue arose because of reports by government veterinary services that the FMD in these cases was not exhibiting normal clinical signs of the disease.

Modisane said it was also due to the misconception based on unfounded rumours in the livestock sector, and the local media, that the OIE had presented DAFF with a list of inadequacies in the veterinary services’ management of national animal health issues, particularly relating to FMD controls.

“Because of these misconceptions, whatever information we supplied after the attempts made by the private livestock sector to acquire this supposed OIE report, was not accepted as being truthful,” said Modisane.

As a result, the livestock industry and other stakeholders had publicly accused DAFF of costing the sector R4 billion a year, due to the ban on exports of live cloven-hoofed animals and their unprocessed products.

He said that in February this year he had received a letter from OIE director-general Dr Bernard Vallat, which should have contained an annexure with a detailed OIE assessment of South Africa’s FMD controls highlighting “the existing information gaps and specific areas that should be addressed in the future”. However, this annexure had been omitted from the original letter. DAFF has asked the OIE to resend it.

“Our private livestock sector must understand that managing national animal health issues, including FMD, in South Africa is very complex. Often the OIE’s standards require that all members adjust their disease management controls, if necessary, for practical implementation.

“Our private livestock sector must also be aware that, as with our neighbouring countries, FMD will never be totally eradicated nationally since it is present in our buffalo populations in the Kruger National Park. These buffalo have the potential to transmit FMD when they interact with FMD-susceptible livestock. All we can do is try and minimise the frequency of outbreaks,” said Modisane.

DAFF confirmed that after last year’s failed attempt to have the OIE reinstate South Africa’s FMD-free status, it had more recently submitted another application, the outcome of which would probably be received in about February next year.

The CEO of the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO), Gerhard Schutte, expressed relief about Modisane’s comments on FMD and national animal health management topics. Schutte agreed that during the past three years there had been a major breakdown in trust between the private livestock sector and DAFF.

“In addition to the FMD issue, our livestock producers are also feeling very let down by DAFF. It is allowing Namibia and Botswana to export large, uncontrolled numbers of weaners to the SA market because of the drought in those countries. This is putting major pressure on our weaner prices,” he said.

Schutte added that the RPO would be inviting Modisane to engage with the National Federation of Red Meat Producers of SA, which represents both commercial and emerging farmers, at an upcoming federation meeting.

Twitter: @PhillipsLM