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Farm vaccines shortage could cost billions

20 March 2015 - 02:32 By Bobby Jordan
AT RISK: Farmers are seeing the effects of unsecured lending on their workers
AT RISK: Farmers are seeing the effects of unsecured lending on their workers

As if the drought were not bad enough farmers are facing a potentially disastrous vaccine shortage at a time when several outbreaks of animal diseases have been reported.

Blue tongue, African horse sickness, and Rift Valley fever have plagued farmers for centuries but have been largely held in check by top-quality veterinary services.

But a breakdown in vaccine production in the state veterinary laboratory service has alarmed farming organisations, which say that the shortage could lead to "billions of rands" worth of production and export earnings being lost.

Outbreaks of animal disease can affect meat supplies and inflate prices.

Producer groups presented their case in parliament last month to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio committee.

DA committee member Annette Steyn said the problem stemmed from capacity problems at state-run Onderstepoort Biological Products, the only producer of vaccines for blue tongue and African horse sickness.

She said the situation was so serious that the private sector was moving into vaccine production.

Onderstepoort Biological Products' Jacob Modumo blamed the vaccine shortfall on old equipment and outdated processes. He said the government had allocated funding for upgrading.