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Australian sheep expose local animals to disease

September 17, 2012

KARACHI, Sept 17: The imported Australian sheep declared to be suffering from highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease were found kept in close proximity to other animals brought for slaughter at a private farm where culling of the sick animals continued for a second consecutive day on Monday, a visit to the private farm in Razzakabad showed.

The farm belongs to the P.K. Livestock and Meat Company which had purchased the sheep earlier rejected by Bahrain.

The government decided to cull more than 21,000 recently imported sheep after laboratory tests confirmed that they were infected with harmful bacteria and had foot-and-mouth disease.

The diseased animals, many of whom looked weak and were shivering, shared their feed container with other animals. This is surprising given the fact that the farm had reportedly been ‘sealed’ by the livestock department for more than a week. When this point was raised with government officials present there, they said the issue was being looked into.

“Animal movement has been banned within the farm and no new animal is being brought here or the old ones are being taken away. Culling is also being done at the farm because shifting could have spread the infections,” Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, representing the provincial livestock department, told Dawn.

He asserted that slaughtering was a safe method to dispose of sick animals and said that more than 700 animals had been culled and buried in a 15- to 20-foot-deep ditch and the process would continue once electricity supply came on in the evening, he said.

Answering a question about the slow pace of culling, deputy commissioner of Malir Qazi Jan Mohammad said butchers engaged in the night refused to resume work in the morning on time and arrangements had to be made to replace them.

“We haven’t sealed off the farm but vigilance is in place,” he said, adding that the authorities were paying Rs10 per head for sheep slaughtering.

Expressing their concern over safety issues involving care of the diseased animals, senior veterinary experts said the government should have quarantined the animals suffering from foot-and-mouth disease.

“Since it is a highly infectious disease and can be spread by infected animals through aerosols, contact with contaminated equipment, clothing or feed and by domestic and wild predators, the infected animals should have never been in an environment where they could come into contact with other animals,” Dr M. Sayedain Jaffery, a senior veterinarian, said.

He also questioned the need for importing adult live animals and said that rather than wasting the nation’s scarce resources, the government should aim at creating conditions conducive for attaining higher targets of productivity with lower rates of flock depletion mainly due to malnutrition, mismanagement and impaired health.

“The government focus should be on improving the inherent productive potential of our own animals as developed countries have made remarkable progress in the field through painstaking research and imaginative planning,” he said.

Pakistan had no dearth of competent animal scientists and experts in disciplines of health, genetics, nutrition and farm-technology who could achieve what may seem impossible.

“Why does our indigenous buffalo yield more in Bulgaria and Italy than what it does here in its own natural habitat? Why can’t the millions of newborn male calves be saved from starvation and slaughter and raised for high quality beef?” he said.

The expert observed that it would have been more prudent on the part of the government that instead of importing animals not wanted in the exporting country, it made a project to apply modern technology of animal farming and educate farmers in this science-oriented business.

No action has yet been taken against the importer and the federal quarantine department officials who allowed the release of the diseased animals.

The samples from animals were tested at the Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre and Tandojam Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.