Livestock diseases, OIE report, update on proposed legislation: Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries briefing, in presence of Deputy Minister

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

28 October 2014
Chairperson: Ms MR Semenya (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), in the presence of the Deputy Minister, presented a report on livestock diseases of economic importance. South Africa had, following numerous complaints from the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), invited the World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to evaluate the performance of animal health in South Africa. The experts made findings on the human, physical, financial resources, technical authority, capability, interaction with interested parties and access to markets. OIE cautioned that although the Veterinary Services of South Africa were still of a generally high standard, they stood at a cross roads between a bright future and a rapid decline. OIE made recommendations which included that Veterinary Services should establish a clear strategy, policy and supportive measures to develop a more comprehensive network of veterinarians in the field with regular contact with farms and animals. The experts pointed to a break in the chain of command between  national and provincial governments, and said that a clear strategy and supportive measures were needed. They commented that, from a technical point of view, there was a good laboratory network, but not enough technical independence in the abbatoirs and registration process, and recommended better resourcing and dedicated staff for risk analysis. Communication with interested parties seemed to be well-supported, but did not reach out enough to the small and communal farmers, and there was not sufficient consultation with all interested parties. In particular, OIE recommended that joint programmes should be developed for important diseases. The OIE found that the internal and external quality of legislation was satisfactory, although there were not enough dedicated legal staff in the Department. International certification and transparenc would be improved by increasing the numbers of field veterinarians. It urged that improvements of the chain of command and development of a comprehensive system would allow the Veterinary Services to move in a positive direction. The recommendations and progress made on these of the Provincial Veterinary Services Report were outlined.

The Department noted that South Africa regained its Foot and Mouth Disease Free Status in February 2014, and although there would be a follow up from the OIE in December, South Africa was confident that it would retain its status, and had implemented the conditions. Although there had been some other outbreaks these happened in the protected zones. The Department also described the outbreaks of avian flu, rabies, and Newcastle Disease, and highlighted that there were some concerns about the possible spread of Rift Valley disease from Botswana. The Department was working on control of all diseases. Finally, the Department reported that it was dealing with the Performing Animals Amendment Bill amendments, and that there was work ongoing also to resolve the disagreement between the Departmental and Chief State Law Advisors on the constitutionality of regulations for compulsory community service for veterinarians. 

Members commended the Department on the updates, and were pleased to see the Deputy Minister present to contribute. They were pleased to hear of the redemption of status for exports, but wondered why this had taken some time. Major areas of concern for Members included the shortage of veterinarians in regular contact with farms and animals, the break in chain of command between national and provincial government departments, the fact that the communication was not addreasing small holders and communal farms, and the failure to update legislation regularly. Members proposed an awareness campaign to educate communities on some of these diseases and a career incentive to encourage students at the university to study veterinary medicine. They also asked for more clarity on the vaccine situation. Some answers and reports would be provided to the Committee at a later stage.
 

Meeting report

Livestock diseases in South Africa: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Animal Fisheries (DAFF) briefing, in presence of Deputy Minister
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Animal Fisheries, Mr Bheki Cele, and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) and reminded Members that at a previous stage, there had been bans imposed on South African exports of meat. DAFF would therefore now present and discuss the status report, and control and preventive measures for diseases, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) report, and give an update on compulsory community service for veterinarians, including regulations to that effect. She also asked that DAFF address the progress made in addressing the Constitutional Court judgment in relation to the Performing Animals Protection Act, 1935.

Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, Acting Deputy Director General, DAFF, noted that South Africa had invited the World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to evaluate the performance of animal health in South Africa, following numerous complaints by the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF).The evaluation took place in October and was conducted by four experts.

The experts' findings in relation to physical, human and financial resources concluded that while financial resources were adequate and regularly provided, there was a lack of veterinarians in regular contact with farms and animals, resulting in reduced credibility. They commented on the sensitivity of passive surveillance and the need for early detection. They also pointed to a break in chain of command between national and provincial governments. They recommended that Veterinary Services must establishe clear strategy, policy and supportive measures to develop a more comprehensive network of veterinarians in the field who had regular contact with farms and animals. They proposed an optimal strategy to restore the national chain of command for all aspects of the Veterinary Service.

In respect of the technical authority and capability, OIE found that there was a good laboratory network but there was a lack of technical independence, particularly for abattoirs, the registration, audit and on-site inspection of facilities producing for the local market, and a lack of individual animal identification. OIE recommended that all provincial laboratories should receive adequate resources, that the Veterinary Services should appoint staff dedicated to risk analysis at central and provincial levels, and technical independence should be re-established for food safety.

Commenting on the interaction with interested parties, OIE found that communication with interested parties was well supported but did not address small holders and communal farmers with any specific material. Although official representation of the veterinary service in OIE and other international institutions was regular, OIE found that there was insufficient consultation with the relevant parties. It recommended that specific communication tools should be established to target all categories of interested parties, and that joint programmes should be developed for important diseases.

In relation to access to markets, the experts found that internal and external quality of legislation and regulation was satisfactory, although there were not enough dedicated legal staff to update regulations regularly. Furthermore, it commented that a lack of veterinarians in regular contact with farms and animals would limit the capacity of Veterinary Services (VS) to certify products or activities. They recommended that VS should recruit legal staff to adequately update its legislation, and that international certification and transparency should be improved by increasing the number of field veterinarians.

The OIE experts noted that at the moment, the Veterinary Services of South Africa were still of a very high standard but cautioned that it found itself at a cross roads between a bright future and a rapid decline. The experts explained that a bright future required restoration of the chain of command with unity of different veterinary domains, and the development of a comprehensive VS system, including official delegation to private veterinarians. This would necessitate better interaction with all stakeholders and consumers, with priority given to addressing the public good. If this was not done, then a rapid decline would result from continued fragmentation of the VS by local authorities or by function, this would result, in turn, by activities becoming market driven by private interests, double standards in animal and veterinary public health, and there a failure to address the public good.

Mr Ramasodi then outlined the progress made on the recommendations of the Provincial Veterinary Services (PVS) Report to include stakeholder consultations on 4  and 5 June 2014, and the Gap Analysis from 17 to 26 June. He noted the preliminary discussions with provinces at MinTech, and preliminary draft actions that needed to be conducted,. He noted the receipt of the preliminary Gap Report analysis on 20 October, and noted also the preliminary draft on the animal disease management plan.

Dr Mpho Maja, Director: Animal Health, DAFF, presented on the current status of animal diseases of economic importance. She highlighted that South Africa received OIE recognized Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)-free status for the free zone in February 2014 and this was endorsed at the May 2014 OIE Annual General Meeting. South Africa had thus now regained its FMD-Free status, after having lost it following the 2011 outbreak of FMD in Kwazulu-Natal. Certain import restrictions from trading partners had been lifted.

She noted that the OIE set certain conditions for South Africa to maintain its free zone status, which included:
- Improved inspection of cattle in the protection z- one
- maintaining a fence between the free zone and protection zone in KwaZulu-Natal
- individual identification of cattle in the protection zone and signs on the roads between the free zone and protection zone.

These measures were currently being implemented by the Directory of Animal Health and the provincial Veterinary Services, The OIE intended to carry out a follow up mission in December 2014.

Dr Maja mentioned that there was an outbreak of FMD in the protection zone in Mpumalanga, with two more outbreaks reported in June 2014.She informed the Committee that an outbreak of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was reported in 2011, which resulted in the suspension of all exports of fresh products, but that was resolved in 2013 with the slaughter out of the last affected farm. However, South Africa had not been able to declare Freedom from HPAI, to regain its trade status, because of the ongoing outbreaks of H5N2.She reported that in 2014, three ostrich farms, in Hessequal Local Municipality and George Local Municipality had tested positive for low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPA) H5N2.By the end of June 2014, there were four ostrich farms reported as part of the ongoing LPAI H5N2 outbreak. The LPAI H7NI outbreak started on 20 October 2013 in Eastern Cape Province, and another three ostrich farms within the Blue Crane Route Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape tested positive for LPAI H7N1.On 22 May 2014, the outbreak on one of the ostrich farms was resolved. Further outbreaks on two ostrich farms were resolved at the end of June 2014. On 31 January 2014 an LPAI H7N7 outbreak was reported to the OIE.

Other outbreaks between April and June 2014 included rabies and Newcastle Disease. She reported that there was a concern for South Africa because of Rift Valley outbreak in northern Botswana, as the disease might spread to South Africa. She reported further outbreaks of Bovine Brucellosis and Tuberculosis and said that the Directorate of Animal Health, in cooperation with the provincial Veterinary Services, had established working groups to review the control of the diseases.

Proposed legislation following Constitutional Court judgment
Dr Boitshoko Ntshabele, President, South African Veterinary Services, then reported to the Committee on the progress made on the Performing Animals Amendment Bill. The Bill was presented to the economic sectors, employment and Infrastructure development (ESEID) Director-General's cluster, which approved that the Bill be presented to Cabinet. A Cabinet memorandum had been drafted and the Department together with the Deputy Chief State Law Advisor in the Department, had approached the Constitutional Court with a request to extend the period of validity of sections 2 and 3 of the Performing Animals Protection Act.

He added that the regulations relating to Compulsory Community Service (CCS) for veterinarians were finalised by the Department, but could not be certified by the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor because of differences of opinion on section 43 and the newly inserted section 20A of the principal Act. The Chief State Law Advisor was of the opinion that the section was unconstitutional and proposeds that the regulations be redrafted, which the Department was currently doing.

Discussion
Mr Z Mandela (ANC) thanked the Department for the report. He sought clarity on how regularly the contact with farms should be, particularly in communal areas. He asked whether there were processing facilities in the former Transkei area, and, if so, where these were located and how often there was contact in those areas. He also asked whether there was a good laboratory network in the former Transkei, and, if so, where it was located - if there was none, then he asked for an explanation on this also.

Mr Mandela wanted to know how the Department was communicating with small and communal farms, with specific reference to the Eastern Cape.

Mr Mandela referred to slide 11 on stakeholder consultations, and wanted information on where the consultations were held and the stakeholders who represented small farmers.

Mr Mandela asked why the Department stopped producing a vaccine, when there were institutions like Agricultural Research Council (ARC). He said the Avian Influenza outbreak was reported in 2011 and resolved in 2013, and asked if this was properly described as an outbreak or a disaster. He wondered why the response time was so long. He said that rabies was not monitored particularly in communal areas, and asked what the Department was doing to replicate the success story of Kwazulu Natal, in eliminating rabies in other areas. He was concerned about the recent outbreak of cat flu that has seen a lot of breeders suffering, and requested the Department to inform the Committee of where this outbreak had occurred.

Ms A Steyn (DA) was thankful that the report deeply analysed the issues at hand. She was pleased also to note the presence of the Deputy Minister, since the Ministry was not often represented at meetings. She urged the Department to act stringently and urgently on the foot and mouth disease oubreaks, the issue with the Amendment Act, and sorting out issues of delegations and authority between provinces and departments. She asked whether the Department was doing everything in its power, under the current legislation. Following up on Mr Mandela's question on cat flu, she asked for a full report on all notifiable and controlled diseases.

Ms Steyn said she was extremely concerned as to why the Department stopped manufacturing vaccines, despite the fact that so many diseases were out of control, not just Brucellosis, Rift Valley Fever and Avian Influenza.She said that most diseases were under-reported and in most instances, when nothing was done about outbreaks, people stopped reporting on them. She asked whether the Department had the two reports that were requested during the 2010-2011 outbreak of Rift Valley Fever. In relation to brucellosis she asked about the manual used to control the disease, and why there was seemingly no control, and asked what the problem was. She also asked the Department to look into the reports that some farmers, particularly on the small farms, were injecting animals with vaccines which were not refrigerated.

Ms Steyn asked for more detail on the opinion of the legal advisor to the Department on the proposed Amendment Act and regulations in respect of the veterinarians' service, and also asked the Department to clarify when it had become aware of the problem of implementing the Performing Animal Protection Act.
She asked whether the Department had any incentives in place to encourage students to pursue veterinary medicine, and for those who qualified to work in rural areas.

Mr C Maxegwana (ANC) thanked the Department for the presentation and welcomed the Deputy Minister. He asked to be enlightened on what the acronym "OIE" meant. He proposed that the Department needed to carry out an awareness drive, because animals were dying due to people’s ignorance on what course of action to follow when diseases broke out. Referring to slide 7, he noted that the OIE experts found that there was lack of technical independence particularly at abattoirs, and recommended that technical independence should be re-established for food safety. He asked for clarification on this finding and recommendation.

Mr T Ramokhoase (ANC) asked whether the MINMEC (Ministers, Members and Executive council) structure established under the Constitution to minimise delays in government was working as expected.  He suggested that special communications tools needed to be established, to ensure that implementation was happening in different provinces.

Ms D Carter (ANC) thanked the Department for the detailed presentation, and also intimated that "it is a breath of fresh air to have the Deputy Minister attend the meeting". She said that there needed to be awareness on the Performing Animals Protection Act to help people understand the protections. She expressed concern on the channel of communication between the Departmental representatives on the agricultural councils and asked the Department to inform the Committee on what kind of feedback it was getting, if any. She also requested a breakdown of expenses of the representatives, which included monthly earnings and, legal fees, and she wondered if this person was representing the Department at all.

The Chairperson applauded the report insofar as the disease-free status was concerned, and said that this was indicative of the fact that the Department was working. She asked, however, for an assurance that when the OIE carried out a follow up mission in December, it would show forward, and not backward movement. She asked what the institutional arrangement was between public and private veterinarians. She wondered if the Department had enough staff on the ground to respond to the challenges of FMD. She urged the need to educate communities, because if South Africa did not deal with management of these diseases, it would affect small farmers in the villages who relied on cattle as part of their income. She asked where there were mobile clinics from the Department, and pointed out that she had never seen them in her province of Limpopo. She pointed out that manufacturing of vaccines was still a problem and yet there was an entity in charge of that, so she wondered if the problems were problems around resources or researchers. She wondered who must enforce the institutional arrangements, so that those who were doing research were able to respond to the challenges in the country. She asked for more information on primary healthcare of animals. She also asked how the Department hoped to legislate so that those benefiting from government funding were able to pay back to the community.

The Deputy Minister thanked the Portfolio Committee for establishing a good working relationship with the Department. Referring to comments by Members, he maintained that his Ministry hads an open door policy with all stakeholders and advised the Committee that if issues came up any Member was free to address them to the Ministry without waiting for Departmental meetings.

Mr Cele said that communication was an obligation on the part of government, although the Department took direct responsibility, and called it social mobilisation, under which the department and stakeholders should be at par even at the lowest community level. The Department pledged to continue going forward with the advice on the issue from the Committee.

Mr Cele confirmed that, in regard to animal health, some issues cannot be handled by the Department alone, as most of the issues needed an integrated approach and there were departments created specifically to carry that approach forward.

Mr Cele reminded Members that the Department's functions were split between provinces and the national level, and sometimes it might happen that the Department lost some control on what was happening, and he described it as a "post office" in relation to the grants and some other matters. The provinces were involved, constitutionally speaking. The Department was working on a system, with the Cchief Financial Officer, whereby the provinces would have to account for the money received from the Ddepartment, and show results of work done before they could be given more money.

Mr Mooketsa asked the Committee to look at where the Department had come from, and not look at the presentation in isolation from other interventions of government. The mandate of the Department included food security, job creation and contribution to the GDP. He highlighted the Agriculture Policy Action Plan of the Department, which had two interventions which addressed the issues being discussed, the red meat value chain and poultry value chain. The two value chains were supported by a transversal intervention called bio-security, which dealt with disease control.

In regard to animal primary health care, interventions were being made in State Owned Companies like Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) to recaptilise to ensure improvement in the current assets so that the restructuring could go on well.OBP made a presentation to the Department and admitted to vaccination problems, which were caused by capitalisation issues. He said that he discussed with the CEO of OBP the availability and distribution of vaccines and there were strategies in place to address those issues.

Mr Cele conceded that, on the issue of departmental representation, Ms Carter raised a very pertinent point. A policy had been put in place whereby full reporting would be made on issues where the Department was represented.

Mr Cele reminded Members that in the Department’s last presentation before the Committee, it was noted that the Department essentially had two options for the compulsory veterinarians' service; either to tmend the entire Act or concentrate on sections 2 and 3 of the Act. The Department decided to concentrate on the latter.

Mr Cele said that he would share the report and advice on brucellosis in the Free State, at a later stage. He also committed himsef to share the opinion from the legal advisor on the Performing Animals Protection Act with the Committee.

Mr Cele promised, on behalf of the Department, to remain committed to raising awareness, with the help of the unit formed to manage promotion and awareness activities.

Mr Cele noted, in relation to the alignment between the OBP and the Agricultural Support Programme, that there were some concerns about the equipment and commercialisation being done through OBP. The Director General, Minister and Deputy Minister were now working on that, to make sure that all the enterprises had a shareholder contact with the Minister, in line with the objectives of the current government.

Dr Maja noted that the FMD free status was considered as permanent for the moment, but that OIE was coming in December to verify the assurances that the Ddepartment outlined in the addendum submitted last year, and to make sure the integrity of the free zone was not compromised. The current outbreak in Mpumalanga was in the protection zone, which fell outside the free zone, so it did not affect the FMD free status. She assured the Committee that the Department was working hard on the issues to ensure that there would be no unpleasant surprises in December.

Dr Maja confirmed that the acronym OIE was the abbreviation of the French title Office International de Maladies Exotique, and that this body was formed in 1924. When other non-French speaking countries joined, the organisation adopted its alternative name of World Organization for Animal Health, but the original abbreviation was retained.

Ms Maja addressed the questions around the avian influenza vaccine, and noted that the Department prohibited vaccination of avian influenza to animals. The other vaccines were supposed to be available. The Department was trying to limit the impact of avian influenza in the population, by developing and designing bio security requirements which aimed to discourage attracting wild birds to the farms. The Department had come up with creative ways of preventing wild birds from coming on to farms, and although this was difficult, it was possible.

Dr Maja confirmed that unfortunately none of the provinces in the country was free from rabies. The Department agreed with the recommendation of the Committee on improving awareness. The Department had an advisory committee dealing with rabies and one of the issues was the vaccine for rabies. It was looking at more effective ways of vaccinating animals, for example through bait that would result in the animals being vaccinated as they took the bait.

With regard to the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis manuals, Dr Maja reaffirmed that she had not intended to suggest that the control manuals were no longer used; they were indeed still in use.

Mr Ntshabele answered the question on primary animal health care, and confirmed that this campaign was launched last year in October by the President and the roll out included the handing over of mobile tools, big trucks and small mini vans. In regards to awareness, DAFF spent around R2 million in the last months in partnership with the Veterinary Council, the University of Pretoria and the Veterinary Association, on campaigns on food safety and food security. The campaigns were run on television. There was one meant to promote the veterinary profession called “choose joy”, that emphasised the ability to work out in the field, the whole day and enjoy sunlight and fresh air.

He pointed out the overwhelming challenge in the veterinary service was that although the country had 53 million people, there were only 3 500 veterinarians. He implored the Committee to take this very seriously when giving thought to what the Department was actually able to do. He compared these statistics to New Zealand, where the population was only 4 million people, but the country produced 100 veterinary doctors a year. The Department’s paradigm was to get traditional faculties to be more proactive in this respect.

He confirmed that it was important for the public and private veterinary practitioners to come together in order to achieve more, and said that against that background, the Department was working on a tool aimed at bringing together all veterinary doctors. For example, diseases like rabies required multiple stakeholders such as Departments of Education, Social Development, Health and Agriculture, to work together.

Mr Ntshabele confirmed that each province had a laboratory, and the only challenge was lack of capacity, in terms of equipment and qualifications of people working in the laboratories, because the equipment was very expensive and government had a challenge in maintaining the laboratories.

Dr Modisane addressed the committee on the institutional arrangement. Veterinary Services tried to limit the kind of institutional arrangements that were in place, in terms of intergovernmental interventions. MINMEC has established a structure called MINMEC Veterinary Watching Group that discussed only veterinary matters of national interest. They held quarterly meetings. However, over and above that there were also committees that were established to address particular diseases such as tuberculosis, rabies and foot and mouth disease. The committees sat on a regular basis and reported their findings to the Veterinary Services. In relation to communication, the Department had a national campaign in which everyone is invited to participate, in order to be educated on the diseases. Speaking to the categorisation of diseases, he noted that there were "notifiable" and "controlled" diseases and those that were controlled were also notifiable. The Department had a full report on all the diseases, but that was information that needed to be explained to the public.

Ms Carter asked whether there is a proposal on how the Department was going to move forward in terms of 2015 licensing. She gave an example that students might be denied entry into veterinary school, but register in another field, perhaps becoming very successful neuro surgeons. That issue needed to be addressed.

Ms Steyn commented, in relation to employment equity, that it was not enough for the Department to mention the number of veterinarians in the country. The Department needed to do something about the situation. She hoped that further questions from herself and Ms Carter would be answered in another engagement.

Other business: Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted minutes of meetings on 14, 15, 16, 17 and 23 October 2014, with amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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