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SA risks loss of red meat and livestock exports with biosecurity constraints

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The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) has warned that the frequent occurrences of animal diseases also implied that some countries – like South Africa in 2021 and 2022 – will occasionally lose access to export markets while they worked to clear the disease.

This comes as the avian influenza, the H5N1 strain that has killed hundreds of millions of birds globally and millions of chickens in the past 18 months in South Africa, was last week detected in a Texas farmworker and dairy cows in six US states.

Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo yesterday said animal diseases were increasingly a significant challenge globally.

Sihlobo said that during such times, the disease-free countries would potentially increase their volume of exports to markets.

“South African red meat and livestock product exporters should always be alert to opportunistic export gaps,” Sihlobo said.

“This is not a unique practice in South Africa; competitors typically increase their market presence when other suppliers are constrained.”

South Africa has experienced various cycles of foot and mouth disease in the cattle industry, multiple strains of avian influenza in poultry, and the African swine fever in the pig industry.

Sihlobo said all these episodes were costly to farming businesses, and distracted the country from its export ambitions.

He said there was likely to be more animal disease outbreaks with Europe, Asia, and the Americas being some regions that typically report disease outbreaks.

“Therefore, South Africa must strengthen surveillance to ensure an agile response from regulators when there are outbreaks,” he said.

“As part of the long-term planning, South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development should also increase its spending on animal health-related matters and build local capacity. This is essential to support the sub-sector, making up nearly half of South Africa’s agricultural economy.”

South Africa is now focused on expanding its red meat and livestock product exports, and strengthening biosecurity is essential to this ambition.

Agbiz said that in part, weaknesses in surveillance and control of the disease contributed to the spread of various animal diseases that South African farming businesses suffered in the past few years.

It said the temporary closure of certain export markets was costly to beef farmers and wool growers.

“The upside of the difficulty was the realisation that the government and private sector must work collaboratively to enhance the country’s biosecurity system – the measures aimed at preventing disease spread,” it said.

“This effort is now underway, and exports are also recovering. As we recently stated, in 2023, beef exports lifted by 3% year-on-year to 27 675 tons.

“In addition, South Africa’s wool exports increased by 18% year-on-year to 49 715 tons. The opening of export markets is evidence of the country’s efforts to address animal health concerns. The deliberate marketing of livestock products to various growing export markets, such as China and Saudi Arabia, also added to this progress.”

Agbiz also said that the news of the US bird flu transmission to dairy and humans reminded them of animal disease risks and uncertainty.

“Fortunately, South Africa remains safe. Still, the farmers, feedlots, and regulators should remain vigilant. The consumer should not be concerned and should continue with typical purchases,” it said.


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