Botswana government officials have denied reports of an anthrax outbreak in a swift response to news that the country’s beef has been banned in one of the Asian countries, a key market that has been identified as the next frontier for growth.
Kuwait, a country in western Asia, last week banned all kinds of ruminant meat and its derivatives from Botswana, including fresh, refrigerated, frozen and manufactured meat, alleging an outbreak of Anthrax in the country, said Asia media reports.
Officials from Botswana’s Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday dismissed the media reports, assuring the public and markets that anthrax, a serious bacterial infection that afflicts animals and rarely humans, has not been detected as media reports suggest.
“Contrary to the circulating media reports, our surveillance systems have not confirmed any anthrax cases in the domestic animal population for many years and although the situation of anthrax in wildlife population is not entirely understood, we would like to assurance that it remains stable and under constant monitoring,” Dr Letlhogile Modisa, director of Veterinary Services, said in a statement released on Thursday.
The allegations of anthrax had the potential to disrupt trade and cause massive business losses, especially for the embattled Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), which has tipped the Asian market is the next big destination of its beef exports. Recently, Chinese officials were in the country discussing potential beef trades.
BMC is not in need of any disruption, the state-owned entity, is already buckling from financial and operational inefficiencies, further sinking what was once the crown jewel of the government into a loss-making machine. With mounting pressure and frustrations, the government has kickstarted a process to have the company privatised.
The cash strapped entity, which is the country’s sole beef exporter, has P468 million in liabilities that include P167.8 million owed to farmers. Government has reportedly refused to bail out BMC from its current mess, and instead hinted at fraud investigations. Already, the government has injected P370 million in BMC in 2019, assistant minister of Agriculture, Beauty Manake, told parliament last month.
BMC is also facing operational issues as it operates under capacity, only using 15 percent of its potential, which means instead of slaughtering 12,000 cattle a month, BMC only manages 2,000 a month.
In November 2019, BMC made a hasty retreat on its planned intention to shut down its major abattoir in Lobatse until 2020, quickly changing the decision two days later after immense criticism and pressure from the public. The beleaguered state-owned beef exporting monopoly said the intention to shutdown was down to cutting costs due to the low numbers of cattle they were receiving at the abattoir.
The cattle – slaughtering company might be in for another tough year, with the Agriculture ministry on Tuesday warning farmers and the public about reported cases of the Lumpy Skin disease, revealing that occurrence of the viral infection, which weakens animals, have been noted in some parts of the country which were not disclosed.
“Farmers are therefore advised to vaccinate their cattle against LSD to minimise stock losses and avoid uses of antibiotics,” said Dr. Modisa.
The Veterinary Services chief urged farmers to promptly report suspected cases of the disease and cautioned that failure to notify authorities is an offence according to the Diseases of Animals Act.