Cape Town - There was no need for panic about the suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on Monday.
The disease has occurred in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has picked up some suspect positive serological results for foot-and-mouth, Joemat-Pettersson told a press conference at Parliament.
"Over 600 animals have been tested and 50% of them were found to be positive," she said.
The matter was reported to the World Health Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on Friday.
South Africa had also temporarily suspended the official OIE recognised foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) free status of South Africa.
She said all exports of cloven-hoofed animals from South Africa had been suspended.No need for culling
"We have suspended all exports of cloven-hoofed animals, inter alia cattle, goats, sheep and their products with immediate effect, except for products that have been fully processed to inactivate the FMD virus."
Departmental veterinarian Dr Bothle Modisane said animals around dipping tanks were being tested. The animals affected were rural cattle.
"Our worry is that they may go southwards to commercial cattle areas," he said.
Joemat-Pettersson said that R300m worth of hides and skins could be affected.
"We will treat the hides and skins effectively, according to recommendations of OIE.
"Because we have detected the situation early we may be able to rescue the exports of these hides and skins," she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said the department was able to contain the herd and that there was no immediate need for culling and there was no outbreak in any other area.
She said the department had been handling the situation since mid-February and that it was confident it had been able to contain the impact of the disease.
She said all animals in the northern KwaZulu-Natal area would be vaccinated and controlled.
"Once you have vaccinated, you have to treat the products. We will then only export de-boned meat, matured meat and meat which has been frozen."
Joemat-Pettersson said the department would also declare areas in other parts of the country which were free of vaccinations so that meat from those areas could be exported.
She said exports to the EU would affect 500 tons a year to the value of R30 million.
Wool exports to China, which had already been affected by Rift Valley Fever, were also a concern.
"We were supposed to host a Chinese delegation next week. We will still decide on that," she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said a team of departmental experts was investigating the matter and the department would be able to reverse the situation within three months.
"We are managing the situation very well. I have asked that all precautionary measures be taken and put in place. I am receiving reports from experts on a regular basis. We are taking reports in the morning, the afternoon and in the evening."
"Even though no clinical symptoms for the disease have been seen to date, the department is continuing to conduct intensive investigations. The control measures will be determined by the findings of this investigation."
Modisane said the department would investigate the possibility that buffalo from the Kruger National Park had escaped into another country, like Mozambique and then moved southwards.
"But we haven't verified this. We are still not sure."
He said the department had declared certain zones "vaccinating zones" to prevent the disease. The Kruger National Park and adjacent areas were part of the zones as buffaloes were carriers of the disease.
"Once infected, buffaloes become permanent carriers of the disease... so all animals will be at risk."
Modisane said South Africa had also declared all neighbouring countries like Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique protection zones.
"So we will go there and conduct routine inspections to check that it's [FMD] not seeping into our country. It was during this routine inspection that samples were taken and we picked up reactors," he said.
He said investigations were continuing and that the department would soon receive reports.Cattle not compromised
He said that the disease was still seen as a "suspected" disease as there were no clear clinical signs to indicate otherwise.
"We have to see the animals limping, the wounds... we haven't seen that yet."
Joemat-Pettersson said the department had acted timeously and that there was no need for panic.
She was convinced that the department had contained the disease.
"We are in control of the situation."
She said that the meat being eaten in South Africa was safe and that all unsafe meat would be destroyed.
"We are convinced that commercial cattle are not compromised at this stage."
She also reassured the farmers in northern KwaZulu-Natal that their livestock was in no immediate danger.
She cautioned farmers to observe bio-security measures by not allowing any new animals into their herds and minimising the movement of their herds.