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Foot-and-mouth must be contained to save the meat industry

The ban on the use of hormones in meat production in Namibia has made it possible for the country to become the first African country to export meat to America, China, and Europe. Photo: Meatco.

An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the communal farming areas in the northern region of Namibia has to be contained to prevent a possible ban on exports which can lead to huge losses in the meat industry.

Reuters reports that the outbreak was first detected in the Ndiyona constituency in the northern region of Kavango East at the end of September, and that it spread to the neighbouring Kavango West region and Shighuru village, which is also in the Kavango East region. According to The Namibian, the first case of FMD was reported at Olukonda constituency in Oshikoto region on 28 December 2020 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

Another case was reported at Uuvudhiya constituency in Oshana region on 6 January 2021. Chief Veterinary Officer Albertina Musilika-Shilongo said all the affected regions, including Oshikoto, Omusati and Kunene North have been declared disease management areas in attempts to stop the further spread of the outbreak. Movement of all live cloven-hoofed animals to and from the areas has been banned with immediate effect. The government has also banned the transportation of other potentially infectious commodities, such as hides, skins, game trophies and plant material out of the affected areas.

Most of the regions fall within the red-line district of the country where FMD is endemic. In this region, red meat producers, vendors and kapana (roasted meat) sellers already suffering from the results of the Covid-19 lockdown, are particularly hard hit.

Meat buyers now have to buy meat south of the veterinary cordon fence, but the difficulties and cost of transport make it impossible for their businesses to survive. The meat buyers are asking for the ban to be lifted, but if the disease spreads to the southern regions and commercial farms, it would not only affect the farmers, but the economy of the whole country.

Namibia exports beef to the lucrative Chinese, European Union, and American markets where the free-range, hormone-free beef is extremely popular. In 2019, Namibia exported about 12 400 tonnes of meat to Norway, Britain, the European Union, and Chinese markets, being the first African country to do so after negotiations spanning two decades over safety regulations and logistics. In 2020, Meatco in Namibia was expected to export 860 tonnes of various boneless beef cuts to the United States, but it is not clear what the influence of the Covid-19 lockdown and the drought had been. The plan is to export 5 000 tonnes by 2025, which will contribute significantly to the country’s income. The spread of FMD will severely impact on this tender export agreement.

Photo: Meatco

What is FMD?

Foot-and-mouth disease is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of cattle and pigs. It also affects sheep, goats, game, and other cloven-hooved ruminants. FMD is not recognised as a zoonotic disease, in other words, it cannot be transmitted to humans. The disease spreads very quickly if not controlled and because of this, it is a reportable disease.

The disease is caused by a virus of which there are seven types, each producing the same symptoms, and distinguishable only in the laboratory. Immunity to one type does not protect an animal against other types. The interval between exposure to infection and the appearance of symptoms varies between twenty-four hours and ten days, or even longer. The average time, under natural conditions, is three to six days. Airborne spread of the disease can take place, and under favourable weather conditions the disease may be spread considerable distances by this route.

Animals pick up the virus either by direct contact with an infected animal or by contact with foodstuffs or other things which have been contaminated by such an animal, or by eating or coming into contact with some part of an infected carcass. Outbreaks have been linked with the importation of infected meat and meat products.

The disease can also be spread by people, vehicles and other objects that have been contaminated by the virus.

Food-and-mouth disease (FMD) is
endemic in the region north of the red line.

Symptoms

• Fever

• Blisters in the mouth and on feet

• Drop in milk production

• Weight loss

• Loss of appetite

• Quivering lips and frothing of mouth

• Cows may develop blisters on teats

• Lameness

Normally, no treatment is given. Most affected animals will recover on their own, but because of the loss of production and the infectious nature of the disease, infected animals are usually culled.

Photo: Food Navigator

Prevention

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) the only real weapon against FMD is restriction of movement and strict biosecurity measures. FMD is one of the most difficult animal infections to control. Because the disease occurs in many parts of the world, there is always a chance of its accidental introduction into an unaffected country.

Export restrictions are often imposed on countries with known outbreaks. FMD outbreaks are usually controlled by quarantines and movement restrictions, culling of affected and in-contact animals, and cleansing and disinfection of affected premises, equipment, and vehicles.

Infected carcasses must be disposed of safely by incineration, rendering, burial or other techniques. Milk from infected cows can be inactivated by heating to 100°C for more than 20 minutes. Rodents and other vectors may be killed to prevent them from mechanically spreading the virus.

Strict biosecurity measures should be practiced on uninfected farms to prevent entry of the virus. Vaccines can be used in endemic regions, but 80% of the animal population must be vaccinated to make it effective, and there is no universal FMD vaccine. What works for one strain, will not control other strains.

Photo: The Namibian

Measures recommended at the farm level include:

• control over people’s access to livestock and equipment;

• controlled introduction of new animals into existing herds;

• regular cleaning and disinfection of livestock pens, buildings, vehicles, and equipment;

• monitoring and reporting of illness; and

• appropriate disposal of manure and dead carcasses.

One of the symptoms of FMD is
frothing at the mouth.

Contingency planning for potential outbreaks will identify the elements included in a response effort to eradicate the disease, such as:

• destruction of all infected, recovered and FMD-susceptible contact animals;

• appropriate disposal of carcasses and all animal products;

• surveillance and tracing of potentially infected or exposed livestock;

• strict quarantine and control on movement of livestock, equipment, vehicles; and

• thorough disinfection of premises and all infected materials (implements, cars, clothes, et cetera).

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