Ban on meat lifted

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cape Town - Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson today announced the lifting of a ban on meat from regions affected by the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

She, however, announced a suspension of all poultry exports after a confirmed outbreak of avian flu in the Western Cape. 

Joemat- Pettersson, who briefed media today ahead of unveiling her R4.7-billion budget in Parliament, emphasised that a ban on the movement of live animals out of the affected regions would remain in place, while adding that "intensive surveillance" was being carried out to determine the extent of the avian flu outbreak.

But the minister, who also today announced that the department intends to introduce a compulsory community service for veterinarians to boost food security in rural areas, said she was confident that the restriction on the movement of animals would be lifted in the next two weeks and is awaiting the last round of tests before a decision could be made.

"We need to reiterate that we are in control of the situation and thus there is no need to panic," cautioned Joemat-Pettersson, who added that so far 64 597 cattle had been vaccinated.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak was first detected in February, and was confined to northern KwaZulu-Natal.

She said the ideal would be to have only those cattle situated on the northern side of the N2 highway vaccinated. "Animals on the eastern or southern side of the N2 are being re-tested and, if positive, [they] may have to be replaced with clean ones," she said.

Negotiations were already under way with a number of countries for opening up exports from the affected regions.

The department's director general, Langa Zita, indicated that both Botswana and Namibia were interested in lifting the ban on meats in the affected region. 

Joemat-Pettersson said the recent outbreak of avian flu on five farms around Outshoorn had led to the quarantining of these farms and to the department suspending all export of poultry and ostrich meat - which are mainly shipped to EU countries.

"Exports of ostrich meat will have to be traced back and recalled to the beginning of February 2011," she said, adding that birds will be restricted to a 10km radius on farms.

Suspending exports was more effective for the country than having the EU impose a ban on the meat, as such a ban could take more than a year to lift if it was imposed, she added. 

She said the recent crisis in the surplus of grain was "no longer there", pointing out that traders in the Middle East and Far East were interested in buying up the surplus.

The minister said the grain surplus had emphasised the need for more agro-processing businesses in the downstream grain sector and added that her department was in talks with the Department of Trade and Industry and Economic Development as to how to develop this area more. 

"The surplus should be turned into an opportunity for job creation as well as income earning for our farmers," she said. 

She said South Africa's ascension to the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) grouping was a boon to the local agriculture sector as it would allow South Africa to more easily enter the perishable foods and processed goods market in countries which, unlike EU nations and the US, did not have farm subsidies. 

Turning to her department's plans to amend the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act to compel veterinarians to undergo compulsory community service, Joemat-Pettersson said the situation had to be changed because of the 3 000 registered vets, only 247 registered as state vets, with only about 300 vets serving rural areas.

The target was to have 100 vets take up community service across the country by next year.

She said the move had been some time in the making, the department has also been allocated a "considerable amount" for this project, including R80 million in the first financial year that the programme started and R120 million in the second year. 

The minister said the Vets Council and smallholder farmers had endorsed this move, which she added would increase food security and curb the outbreak of diseases.

She hoped to have the bill through by the beginning of next year, but veterinarian students currently doing their studies would not be required to do community service.

The idea is for the department to first seek out unemployed graduated vets, she said. 

Turning to transformation, Joemat-Pettersson said the department had now set up a dedicated unit to study the respective Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) charters for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, adding that the fishing sector had been the most difficult when it came to implementing BEE.

The department is encouraging the re-opening of farm equity schemes and for farmers to grant farm workers equity.

She said the state had to take complete responsibility for the success of black farmers, but added that the department was not going to rush to get the green paper on land reform completed at the risk of food security.

"We cannot have a situation where we risk food security in our country and the fine balance we have with all stakeholders in agriculture has to be maintained," said Joemat-Pettersson.

She said the expansion of white farmers into the continent did not mean that a "mass exodus" of white farmers from the country was under way.

"We are encouraging our white farmers to expand their operations into the continent. This means that we have better market access for our farmers and we have better opportunities for job creation," she said, pointing out that this expansion was similar to an entity like Shoprite Checkers opening up outlets across the continent. 

Turning to the pending Walmart-Massmart deal, which was currently being reviewed by local competition authorities, Joemat-Pettersson said legally binding conditions needed to be in placed to ensure that local farmers benefited. - BuaNews