Cape Town. 140219. Tina Joemat-Petersen at a media briefing today. Picture COURTNEY AFRICA

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

ALTHOUGH South Africa’s foot and mouth disease-free status was officially regained last week after being suspended for three years, export markets have not been reopened.

The government first had to negotiate with governments of former trading partners to get them to reopen trade with South Africa, Mpho Maja, director of animal health at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said yesterday.

She was not able to predict how long this would take.

The export ban, which cost the country an estimated R3 billion a year, came into effect in February 2011 after the World Organisation for Animal Health suspended the South Africa’s former foot and mouth disease-free status after an outbreak of the disease.

Maja said the foot and mouth virus was endemic in South African wild buffalo and “now and then spills over” into domestic cattle. The ban affected all cloven-hoofed livestock.

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced a range of measures yesterday designed to ensure the country keeps its disease-free status, and also to boost the country’s veterinary services. These include:

l The development of a policy action plan to bolster bio-security controls which would go to cabinet for approval soon.

l Increasing the department’s extension services.

l Expanding veterinary services through a system of compulsory community service of graduates, which will begin next year.

l Deploying 27 fully equipped mobile clinics, with operating theatres, to take vet services into the rural areas where there are currently none.

l A system of tamper-proof tags that will allow livestock to be identified and traced in foot and mouth disease areas.

l A new R500-million state vet institute, built under the auspices of the Agricultural Research Council, and funded by the National Treasury.

l Additional funding to state-owned company Onderstepoort Biological Services to strengthen its capacity.

l The building of a vaccine production facility at Onderstepoort, already under construction.

Because of lack of investment in agricultural research and development, Onderstepoort had ceased producing vaccines and the foot and mouth vaccines had to be imported from Botswana.

Joemat-Pettersson said the funding injection would ensure South Africa was not dependent on vaccine imports.

The department was working with universities and other research institutions in this regard.

“But it won’t happen overnight.”

Gerhard Schutte, head of the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, said South Africa was a net importer of beef (10 percent) which came mainly from Botswana and Namibia, and of mutton (24 percent) which came mainly from Namibia with a small amount from overseas.

The export ban had therefore not affected the export of beef and mutton, but had had a huge impact on the export of wool, dairy, game, hides, skins and stud animals.

“We only exported about 1 percent of our red meat, but now with the change in the rand-dollar rate, it could become lucrative to export red meat,” Schutte said.