January 17, 2003

BOTSWANA: Foot and mouth disease outbreak

The European Union (EU) followed South Africa's lead on Thursday, January 16, and banned imports of deboned meat from Botswana following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the country.

"The standing committee on food chain and animal health agreed to temporarily suspend the importation into the EU of de-boned fresh meat of these species [bovine, ovine and caprine species and farmed and wild game animals] from the whole territory of Botswana," an EU statement said. The EU would re-evaluate its position within three months while neighbouring South Africa, which has just recovered from a similar outbreak and EU ban, has extended its ban to include live cloven hoofed animals, dairy products, meat products, hides and skins and other products, and posted special patrols at its border with Botswana.

The outbreak was first reported on a communal farm in the Matsiloje extension area in the Francistown district to the northeast of the country on Saturday, January 11. It is the second outbreak in two years.

The Botswana government will kill about 5 000 cattle in the Matopi crush, in the Matsiloje area. Addressing farmers at Matopi, the Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Pelokgale Seloma said that the government has considered all options before arriving at the decision. All animals in the infected areas will be vaccinated as often as is necessary in order to protect them and reduce the rate of animal to animal transmission of the disease. The vaccinated animals are to be disposed of as soon as it is clear that the disease is not widespread. Farmers will be compensated P650 per bovine animal and P350 per pig killed irrespective of age, size and condition. Owners will be given 70 per cent of the compensation as cash and 30 per cent in the form of live animals for re-stocking.

Seloma urged farmers to be vigilant and report any illegal livestock movement to the chief, police or veterinary personnel. "Such illegal movements have landed us in this predicament and the perpetrators have to be brought to book," he warned.

With livestock byproducts one of Botswana's major exports next to diamonds, the department also notified its export markets that it had closed abattoirs, placed a countrywide ban on slaughtering, and suspended exports. The slaughtering ban was lifted in certain areas on Thursday, January 16.

Although preliminary tests indicate foot-and-mouth disease, the department was still waiting for the result of an internationally recognised test to confirm the outbreak, Mapitse said. It was also awaiting an indication of the strain and origin of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, Botswana's northern neighbour Zimbabwe, itself still under a self-imposed export ban to the EU following a similar outbreak, has warned that it does not have the foreign exchange to buy the vaccines needed to keep its own outbreak in check. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis and also does not have enough foreign currency for many vital purchases including fertiliser and fuel.

Stuart Hargreaves, principle veterinary officer in Zimbabwe's Department of Agriculture said that appeals over the last two years for funds to buy 2.3 million units of vaccine from its supplier in Botswana had been unsuccessful. Commenting on speculation that Botswana's outbreak may have originated in Zimbabwe, Hargreaves said that this had not been confirmed. However, he said there was some cattle smuggling across the border by Zimbabweans taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate of the Botswana Pula, the strongest currency in the region, on the parallel market. "The guy in Botswana gets the cattle cheap, the guy in Zimbabwe gets a good exchange rate, they're both happy," he said. He added that most foot-and-mouth infections including those occurring in Europe, were from illegal imports, not from certified imports. (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone / IRIN)

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