Foot and mouth disease: “No need to continue with the mass slaughter”

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Having been involved with livestock development in the region as a Senior Programme Manager at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat for more than 8 years, I feel it is my duty to comment on the recent out- breaks of Foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Mauritius and Rodrigues.

Mauritius being a small island state surrounded by the sea, the outbreak of FMD in cattle and other cloven hoof animals was quite unexpected, and a first in Mauritius. During my tenure of office at the SADC Secretariat, I have had to deal with FMD in the region and issues of marketing related to the disease, especially as Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia are exporters of beef to the European Union.

FMD is a disease which does not kill and farmers in the southern African region are well aware that within a period of two to three weeks the animals will recover and will be integrated into the healthy herd. However, there are procedures that must be followed in dealing with the disease as it is a requirement that the outbreak be notified to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The procedure warrants that initial diagnosis by the veterinary services be confirmed by laboratory analysis so that the circulating virus responsible for the clinical symptoms of FMD be confirmed and that subsequently, the appropriate vaccine be produced. In the region, there are two OIE6-referenced laboratories which can type the virus responsible for FMD. These are the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute in South Africa and the Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) in Botswana.

The most common viruses which cause FMD in cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and other cloven hoof animals are the Southern African Territories (SAT) 1, 2, and 3, A, O, C and Asia1. However, in the region, SAT1, 2 and 3 are the most common circulating viruses, although a few countries have also experienced infections with the O topotype. It is only when the virus has been identified that the vaccine can be produced and subsequently a vaccination programme be instituted.

I have read in the press that initially the SAT1, 2, and 3 were suspected and vaccine was ordered from Botswana without confirmation from the laboratories. Consequently, it was believed to be the O topotype. This makes the situation quite complex as to the vaccine that should be used. Fortunately, the BVI took the initiative to send one of its officers to assist in dealing with the FMD issue and it is believed that the officer sent samples from Rodrigues to the BVI. Hopefully, the results will be obtained towards the end of the week or early next week. In the region, BVI is the only institution which manufactures FMD vaccines, amongst others, but before this happens, the circulating virus/viruses need(s) to be confirmed so that the vac- cine can target the virus/viruses for effective control of the disease.

“Rodrigues cannot export animals to Mauritius for about three years. I do not see the rationale behind this measure. How is this justified?”

Since the outbreak, we have witnessed, to the utter despair of the farmers, the slaughter of animals showing clinical signs of the disease and of those suspected of being infected with FMD. We might have witnessed the destruction of the whole animal population of Rodrigues, were it not for the Honourable minister to caution against mass slaughter.

It is felt that the usual precaution of isolating the diseased animals and restricting the movements of animals and humans are necessary until control measures are put in place. This is more so important for Rodrigues, being given the fact that many farmers use common pastures for their animals to graze. This being so, it may not be surprising that the whole island of Rodrigues may be infected. This does not mean that all the cloven hoof animals will have to be slaughtered.

On the other hand, I have read that Rodrigues cannot export animals to Mauritius for about three years. This is appalling as I do not see the rationale behind this measure. How is this justified?

As pointed out earlier, animals recover from FMD within about three weeks, but they can still have remnants of the disease, as by that time, some form of immunity against the disease may have been acquired. A vaccination programme with the appropriate vaccine can be undertaken with a booster dose two weeks after the start of the vaccination programme. Then, this is followed by another dose after three months, by which time the disease would have been controlled. This should be evidenced by proper sero-monitoring of the vaccinated animals. Hence, within a maximum of six months, farmers can start the export of their animals to Mauritius.

I have also heard in the news that there is a prohibition to export poultry and eggs from Rodrigues because of FMD. This is unjustified as FMD does not affect poultry. However, it is understandable that the containers carrying poultry and eggs should be properly disinfected.

Coming to Mauritius, it is believed that the disease could have been brought in by animals from Rodrigues, bought by farmers for breeding purposes, and introduced into their farms. Here, we have a cut and carry system and animals are housed indoors. Hence the spread of the disease can be minimized by taking the usual precautions of restricting human and animal movements.

However, as in Rodrigues, a vaccination programme, with the appropriate vaccine, will need to be put in place so that the disease can be control- led. There is, therefore, no need to continue with mass slaughter to the extent that we may decimate the whole national herd. In Africa, especially in southern Africa, farmers in remote areas, who have animals on pasture would prefer to have a maximum number of animals exposed to the disease in order to build the necessary immunity against FMD within the shortest possible time.

Mauritius is not an ex- porter of beef, unlike some countries of Africa. The only trade in cloven hoof animals (live) is with Rodrigues. Hence, once the appropriate measures in terms of inspection and certification are agreed upon, trade in live animals can restart.

As for wildlife, with respect to the deer population, it is fortunate that there is no contact with cattle or any other cloven hoof population in Mauritius. The fact that deer hunting has been halted temporarily is a laudable measure of the Mauritius Deer Producers Association as this will ensure that that the deer population will not be affected.

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