Government lifts ban on livestock auctions, imposes strict rules
The government has lifted a ban on public auctions of livestock which was put in place after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease late in 2019.
However, there will be stringent conditions for auctions when they resume, and they will be conducted only by agents registered with the Agriculture Produce Agents Council.
“We have come to the point where we have done all the clinical assessments, farm by farm testing animals and convincing ourselves we don't have a risk of the spread of the disease beyond Limpopo province,” agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza said on Monday.
“We had at some stage taken an interim measure to ban auctions in the neighbouring provinces, which are Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West.
“We did that, appreciating the impact this would have in the industry, but it was necessary to contain the spread. However, our assessment was that there is a possibility you have movement of animals at night and it might reach other provinces beyond the three.
“We had to do a temporary ban across the country, allowing us time to get to the root of the spread of the disease in Limpopo,” she said, explaining the decision to impose a countrywide ban in December.
Didiza was careful to state that all government's decisions regarding the matter were taken in consultation with relevant stakeholders who were part of committees set up following the announcement of the outbreak in November.
“Once we received from the farmer who was affected the message that there is an outbreak of foot and mouth, we immediately convened a stakeholders meeting which brought in farmers' organisations and the red meat industry to look at how we can deal with this disease.
“Whatever decisions we've taken on control measures were driven by that committee,” she said.
Didiza said Eswatini and Zimbabwe decided to ban imports of beef and livestock animals from South Africa while other countries did not, but they kept in contact to understand how the disease was being controlled.
“We didn't lose a lot of markets internationally. We still maintained our exports to China and the Middle East because of the control measures we put in place,” said Didiza.
She said a trade committee that was established had been monitoring and ensuring no further markets were lost.
“I understand the impact this has had in the economy, particularly for the auctioneers whose business is about trading, but they also appreciate that what we did was to protect the entirety of the red meat industry of SA,” she said.
The government could not say at this stage how much had been lost by the industry due to the ban, only saying a study was under way to establish this.
Among the control measures being put in place would be ensuring that people who are trading do not move high risk animals showing signs of disease, animals from unknown origin or animals originating from known infected areas.
“With foot and mouth, you do have clinical signs that farmers can see, so we are saying if the farmers observe that, they mustn't sell those animals and the buyers mustn't buy because it indicates risk,” said Didiza.
She said it was also important that farmers don't buy animals from people who cannot vouch for the origins of animals, and that buyers should insist on being given a veterinary health declaration before they can take the animals.
She said the government will seek to amend the Animal Identification Act of 2002 which provides for the identification of each animal. Animal identification has been raised as one of the important issues that need to be addressed if the foot and mouth disease is to be properly controlled.