IT is indeed a relief that the Sindh government has begun to cull thousands of infected sheep that were brought into the country from Australia. However, it is safe to assume that if it were not for the hue and cry raised by the media, the meat from these sheep may easily have ended up on our dinner plates. Health officials said the culling was necessary as the infections — the animals were infected with foot-and-mouth disease, among other ailments — could have spread to local livestock. The episode raises questions primarily regarding government oversight, or lack thereof, when it comes to the import and export of livestock. For instance, why were the sheep, imported by a private concern, allowed into the country when they had already been rejected by Bahrain? Also, the authorities must explain why the animals were released before being properly examined in quarantine and why they were kept with healthy animals.
The stakeholders’ urge to cut corners and the government’s willingness to look the other way has cost Pakistan’s livestock, fisheries and agriculture sectors dearly. For example, the European Union has banned the import of Pakistani seafood since 2007 due to concerns about the lack of hygienic handling of the catch in local harbours. Fruit export has also suffered due to local exporters’ failure to meet international standards. All this amounts to shooting ourselves in the foot. While importing diseased animals, presumably for local consumption, is tantamount to playing with people’s lives, ignoring safety and hygiene standards for export products translates to shutting ourselves out of foreign markets. The government needs to ensure livestock raised in the country for export or animals brought in for local consumption are healthy not only in the interest of public health, but also to prevent Pakistani exports from being labelled as unfit for consumption.