The latest outbreak of food and mouth disease (FMD) in Ngamiland is prompting containment measures that are at once stringent, cumbersome and are disrupting the rhythm of everyday social life.
During past outbreaks, the Department of Veterinary Services controlled the movement of cattle in a very strict manner. The life of most Batswana, especially those in rural areas, revolves around cattle which are routinely slaughtered to feed mourners at funerals and guests at weddings. In the past, the department has allowed the slaughtering of uninfected cattle at cattleposts under the supervision of a veterinary officer. This necessarily means that these officers had to travel from their duty stations to the place of slaughter where they would conduct tests. As a grieving Maun family found out last week, the situation has changed drastically and absurdly.
Having decided that the burial would be held on Friday, the family planned to get a cow from its cattlepost which is 50 kilometres away from Maun and duly approached the Department of Veterinary Services to seek guidance. The first response was that a moratorium had been imposed on cattle slaughter due to the outbreak and no beef would be allowed into the village. That was when the family sought the intervention of the tribal leadership. The latter’s intercession resulted in a problematic solution: the usual protocols (of the vet accompanying family members to the cattlepost) would be followed but this time, not only would the cattle be slaughtered at the cattlepost, the meat would have to be cooked there as well and carted off ready to eat to Maun. That is what this family and all others had to do. That is what everybody else will be doing until the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is satisfied that the FMD has been contained.
However, an expert doubts the government is handling the crisis the right way. His particular concern is with the requirement that the meat should be cooked at the place of slaughter and transported to villages because he feels that its safety would be compromised along the handling chain. The meat will come into contact with more surfaces, cooking utensils and handlers and that this will increase the likelihood of contamination.