Why foot and mouth could make your steak a bit cheaper

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Experts say there’s no reason to fear eating meat now, and there may even be a positive spinoff for the consumer.

South Africans can still enjoy a braai without fear of catching foot and mouth disease (FMD), as the recent outbreak will not pose any health risk to meat eaters and could even lead to a drop in meat prices.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana yesterday responded to a provisional ban that was announced by several countries – including eSwatini, Namibia and Botswana – which have rejected imported meat products from South Africa since the announcement of the FMD outbreak last week.

The import ban was to minimise the risk of spreading the disease in their countries. The disease was caused by a “spillage” in the Vhembe district of Limpopo, where about 15,000 cattle are at risk.

Foot and mouth disease is a severe, contagious viral disease that affects livestock such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and other cloven-hoofed animals. It mostly causes weight loss, which devastates the profitability of farming the animals.

FMD does not affect humans, however, and it is safe to consume products of cloven-hoofed animals, such as meat and milk, the minister said.

He said the outbreak would not affect the pricing method of red meat in the country.

“We don’t see this changing the pricing method. It will remain proper and normal for you to have a braai without fear of any problem in terms of FMD. It will not cause any health problems to people who eat meat.”

The department would be vaccinating infected cattle within 20km of the affected village, Sundani, during the course of this week.

“Culling of affected or in-contact animals in the area is at the moment not advocated due to a number of factors and the situation is being constantly monitored by my veterinary team.

“Farmers in the whole country are cautioned to observe bio-security measures – not to allow any new animals into herds and to minimise the movement of their own herds to other farms.”

At least 3% of the country’s meat produce is exported, but the bans in other countries will lead to more supply in South Africa.

This could lead to a drop in meat prices, as demand will be lower than the supply, Gerhard Schutte of the Red Meat Producers Organisation told The Citizen.

“That meat will end up in the local market. There is a small window of opportunity that some of the small export is coming back. The supply will be higher in the local market with the demand being the same.

“It is good for the consumer because the price could, for the interim, drop or could stay put. There is no good reason for a price increase at the moment,” Schutte said.

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