More than 30 South African journalists, including myself,
regularly post uncensored news about developments in South Africa on the Web site censorbugbear.com.
The site is very popular among the more than 1 million South African expatriates who have already left the country since 1995 and now live scattered throughout the Western world.
Reports on censorbugbear.com first disclosed the spread of FMD to South Africa and the failure of the government to stop its spread within South Africa and to other nations it does commercial business with – months before FMD began making headlines in Europe and the U.S.
Some background: The International Epizootic Organization in Paris, which is the international veterinary reporting agency to which more than
180 countries are signatories, reports that the present strain of foot-and-mouth disease started its relentless march among Western commercial herds about three years ago.
The identified strain comes originally from Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and China, where FMD outbreaks among livestock remain unreported internationally and are
being treated instead of the livestock being culled.
FMD-infected livestock lose massive amounts of weight but do not necessarily die from it. The disease takes away the livestock's commercial export value for fresh dairy and meat products to all Western countries, which have much stricter veterinary control requirements than Asian countries.
Far Eastern island nations such as Australia and New Zealand have managed to successfully protect their FMD-free export status by throwing up extensive veterinary barriers against FMD from the surrounding countries and have thus far remained free of it.
This strain of FMD remains endemic in many Asian countries to this day - where the livestock is not culled – as is now being done in Western
countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
In most Asian countries except Taiwan, where strict Western-style veterinary controls remain the norm, local authorities do not insist on culling the FMD-infected livestock to eradicate the outbreaks. Instead these animals are treated with antibiotics for this
Carcasses of this tainted Asian livestock still find their way into the
Western food chain, however. The carcasses are ground up for cheap livestock feed widely exported to Western markets, where it has found its way into cattle feed widely sold to many European farmers.
The carcasses of millions of infected FMD-animals in Asia, including
China, are ground into cheap livestock feed, which in turn is sold to Western countries in vast quantities – thus spreading the Eastern variety of the FMD virus far afield.
The South African outbreak was first identified on Sept. 22, 2000, at
a pig farm in Camperdown, where kitchen slop bought from Asian ships in
local harbors had been fed to livestock.
South Africa has its own strain of endemic FMD that is always present in
its wildlife such as wildebeest on the animal sanctuaries. Because of extensive veterinary barrier controls this African strain has not invaded
human habitats since 1938.
However, when the Asian strain was identified in Camperdown, the South
African authorities, fearful of losing their valuable status as an FMD-free
zone from which fresh meat products can be safely exported to Europe and
North America, failed for at least three weeks to notify their country's
first FMD outbreak in commercial cattle to the International Epizootic
Moreover, the South African agriculture minister, Mrs. Thoko Didiza, who told
news media she did not know how devastating foot-and-mouth disease could be
for the commercial market, did not order any preventive control measures
such as road blocks against the first outbreak at the Camperdown pig farm
for a full seven days after she had been notified. This led to a
disastrously expensive outbreak that spread to two other provinces before
it was eradicated with an extensive culling of commercial cattle and a
vaccination program of the surrounding tribal traditional cattle.
South Africa's formerly lucrative fresh meat export market has suffered
multimillion-dollar losses since the outbreak.
What is clear is that had South African authorities taken steps immediately, the disease may have been contained and its spread to nations outside South Africa stopped.
A vigorous free press would have motivated South African authorities to take action against FMD.
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