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Opinion: Appointment Of Ministerial Task Team On Animal Biosecurity: A Silver Bullet?

  • 5 min read

For many stakeholders in the livestock industry, the recent news of the appointment of a Ministerial Task Team on Animal Biosecurity seems like a silver bullet – a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem.

Hard hit by outbreaks of debilitating diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), African Swine Fever and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, stakeholders in the beef, poultry and pork industries have faced severe challenges when it comes to biosecurity, which have hindered their ability to conduct business – both nationally and internationally.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the recent announcement,” says Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at Beefmaster Group, a specialist producer and exporter of beef products. “But the success of the task team will largely depend on the urgency of those involved to find real, workable solutions to the challenges we face. We need more action, less talk.”

Beefmaster Group has long been calling for the livestock industry to focus on the implementation of proper traceability structures and biosecurity measures to contain the spread of localised disease outbreaks.

“This is because the burden of disease is a threat to the national herd. The only way to protect the industry is for those in the industry to adopt robust traceability structures, which will ensure a stable, profitable income for those in the beef supply chain.”

However, van Reenen says that getting the industry to implement such structures can only be done if there is cooperation from all players. “We cannot do this alone. As an industry we have to work with the government.”

Dewald Olivier, Executive Officer of the South African Feedlot Association – which represents the interests of the feedlot industry and others in the beef supply chain – says that the Association welcomes the appointment of the task team.

“This is a step in the right direction. We recognise that the only way to find solutions to the challenges we face is if we have greater collaboration between government and industry. We don’t want to point fingers; we want to work together, want decisions to be made and implementation to happen. However, we think it will take a long time to get there, as there is no quick and easy fix.”

He adds that the task team consists of highly skilled individuals who have vast experience and a deep-rooted understanding of the problems each stakeholder faces.

“They are familiar with what the stumbling blocks are to implementing better biosecurity structures and measures. The Feedlot Association has full confidence in the appointed team.”

He says that although the country has a fantastic disease management framework, there are challenges with its implementation.

Van Reenen agrees there is already legislation in place, but there are changes that should be considered to make it impactful. In addition, enforcement is a problem. 

“The outbreak of FMD is going to continue to be a problem so long as we have players in the beef value chain who don’t adhere to the legislation,” explains van Reenen.

“One of our biggest challenges is the implementation of these regulations. If it is not being implemented, then we need to look at what the issues are, and find ways to solve these. This is ultimately what the point of the task team is – to find more collaborative ways of ensuring the sustainability of our industry,” explains Dewald Olivier.

He said a great example of the willingness of industry to work within the rules and work with government is with the first outbreak of FMD in 2019 when the Minister of Agriculture was forced to restrict the movement of animals by stopping all auction activity.

“Auctions were only opened under the strict conditions that all livestock agents must be registered with the Agricultural Produce Agents Council (APAC), who vowed to ensure that those involved at auctions adhered to the biosecurity measures instated.”

One of the current problems noted by Olivier is that there are too few state veterinarians, who are vital to the sign-off process required for export permits. This has created a backlog.

“Why not allow private veterinarians to help ease the burden? In addition, we would, as an industry, for example be more than willing to contribute to the salaries of more resources if that is a problem, so as to speed up the administrative backlog and get our members’ products through the ports.”

He adds that industry realises that government can’t do “everything, and they also don’t need to”.

“Our hope is that the expectations of industry are not misaligned with those of the Minister’s. We need to be on the same page,” he says, adding that the task team offers the opportunity for both industry and government to be frank about what has worked and what has not.

“If we did this 15 years ago, in the sense of not criticising but saying, what can we do to help? If we as an industry were more focussed on working together rather than finding fault, we would probably be in a better position today. We simply have to work with each other in order to open up more opportunities for our industry,” concludes Olivier.