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New FMD Outbreak Compounds Botswana Beef Situation

02 June 2011

BOTSWANA - The suspected outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in northeastern Botswana has compounded further the troubles bedevilling the cattle and beef industries in the Southern African beef exporter.

The crippling industry has already been hit by a series of misfortunes this year including lumpy skin disease and dissatisfaction with quality standards by the European Union (EU) that resulted in suspension of export to the EU market.

Still fresh from a confirmed outbreak of FMD reported on May 5 in the Matsiloje area, which is in the neighboring veterinary disease control zone six (eastern Botswana), the shocking news that the disease has now surfaced in zone seven (northeastern Botswana), around the Botswana-Zimbabwe border at Ramokgwebana broke on Tuesday. This is bad news for the industry as just last month Botswana sent a strong delegation to a EU summit in Paris, France, to assure the market of quality product once they start exportation, which was scheduled for September this year.

Speaking to Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday, the Director of veterinary services in the Ministry of Agriculture Kgosietsile Philemon-Motsu said the recent outbreak is indeed a major setback for the country's cattle industry.

Philemon-Motsu said they were hopeful that FMD has been put under control and were now focused on preventing the disease from re-surfacing. "We are very much concerned about the disease. We have put all measures in the vulnerable areas to prevent the disease but now we are shocked with this new outbreak," he said.

He however highlighted that all immediate measures have been put in place to make sure that the disease does not spread to other areas and were hopeful to control and stop in a short period of time.

The latest outbreak comes at a time when government is still battling with striking public sector unions demanding salary increment with many veterinary officers on strike. The veterinary disease control zones six and seven seem to be sharing a bad omen as they were hit by FMD outbreaks in 2002 and 2003.

The government during that time spent about 19 million Pula (over 3 million US dollars) in compensation payments, re- stocking and logistical operations during outbreak control. This follows an outbreak of FMD in 2006 in the area which share the border with the neighboring Zimbabwe. Since 2006, the area was isolated from the lucrative European Union (EU) markets.

Botswana Ministry of Agriculture is still battling to contain the recent outbreak after Cabinet had approved a budgeted of a whopping five million US dollars to contain the disease within veterinary zone six.

Until Wednesday, it was not yet clear how much budget government would commit to effectively control the new outbreak, but it seems a hefty budget will be required to successfully contain the disease.

Reached for comment on Wednesday, Minister of Agriculture Christian De Graaf said they have responded swiftly and already held a meeting with the veterinary officers and other stakeholders with an objective of finding out how best to deal with the new FMD outbreak.

He stated that they were still negotiating with trade partners so that the abattoirs could open.

De Graaf stressed that it was "very important" to educate people out there as an endeavor to ensure that the disease does not spread to other areas as it could harm the economy badly.

"If the disease is contained in a given area, it can be easily managed than when it is allowed to spiral out of control as it can cripple the whole industry," he said.

He indicated that they were doing all they could so that the situation could be returned to normal with abattoirs resuming normal production. Beef exports contribute significantly to the economy of Botswana and that is why the government has been on its toes and De Graaf vowed that his ministry would not leave anything to chance.

Veterinary officers recently blamed the outbreak of FMD on illegal trafficking of animal products across the border.

Botswana cattle industry has already suffered major setbacks this year after being ravaged by the lumpy skin disease in February. Still in the same month, the industry suffered again when a team of EU inspectors expressed dissatisfaction with operational standards at the country's abattoirs following random inspections. This resulted in immediate closure of the abattoirs and a halt on exports to EU.



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