We need answers!

It’s high time the department of agriculture drops the rhetoric and gives us a few straight answers to questions about our animal bio-security.

When the news of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal broke early in 2011, government officials were quick to ask industry representatives to help solve the problem and not to play the blame game. It was promised that, once the problems surrounding the outbreak were sorted out, the department would institute an investigation to find out what went wrong and how to prevent similar disasters in future.

With government still struggling to get the buffer zone fence in place and to determine the borders of the FMD-free zone, it now seems as if no one is interested any longer in finding out what exactly went wrong and how to prevent similar things happening in future.

Rift Valley fever
Then we come to Rift Valley fever (RVF). Farmers were initially blamed for the failure of Onderstepoort Biology Products’ vaccine to protect animals against RFV. Allegedly, they didn’t protect the vaccine against UV rays, and made a whole lot of other errors.

These allegations were generally accepted until farmers proved that the vaccine did not, in fact, provide immunity against RFV. And lame excuses about new strains of RFV do not diminish OBP’s responsibility to provide efficient vaccines for Africa-specific diseases.

Melamine
In 2007, poisonous melamine was found in pet food. It was discovered this originated in gluten meal imported from China. The department of agriculture confiscated the offending feed and instituted programmes to prevent the importation of further consignments of the contaminated product. But about a year later, melamine was found in dairy products. The contamination was traced back to the same consignment of gluten confiscated by the department.

Questions
There are numerous other examples of the department’s failure to manage animal bio-security measures, and we urgently need a few straight answers:

  • FMD: Who was responsible for keeping the buffer zone fence in place? Were they censured for their dereliction of duty? When will they erect this fence? Does the department have a detailed plan for handling the FMD issue? If so, why has this not been communicated to the agriculture sector?
  • RFV: Why is the vaccine ineffective? Does OBP have the capacity to develop an effective vaccine, or should it outsource the job to a private manufacturer?
  • Melamine: How did confiscated gluten end up in the market place? Was the guilty party identified? Has the department instituted new control measures to prevent the same thing happening again?

Finally, can the minister continue to place the bio-security of our livestock industries at risk by continuing to rely on the same people (who allowed all the crises to develop) to protect our bio-security, or should she get rid of them and re-appoint all those who were retrenched or went on early pension? This may have political repercussions, but not taking this difficult decision may result in serious food insecurity.

Dr Koos Coetzee is an agricultural economist at the MPO. All opinions expressed are his own and don’t reflect MPO policy. Contact Dr Coetzee at f[email protected]. Please state ‘Global farming’ in the subject line of your email.