Foot and mouth disease in Namibia raises concerns |

Foot and mouth disease in Namibia raises concerns

The world’s veterinary organization reported earlier this month that the African country of Namibia experienced another outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in cattle.

This, after a shipment of 25 tons of Namibian beef arrived on U.S. shores in April of this year, had at least one cattle organization upset.

“NCBA calls on USDA to investigate and reaffirm the efficacy of Namibia’s cordon fence, security of Namibia’s buffer zone and surrounding FMD protocols, and if found deficient, USDA must take immediate action to suspend imports from Namibia in order to ensure the continued safety of U.S. cattle and beef,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs, Ethan Lane in a recent news release.

R-CALF USA animal health committee chair Dr. Max Thornsberry of Richland, Mo., said that Namibia is not a FMD-free country, but the majority of the country was considered FMD-free because of a fence across the northern tier of the nation.

The veterinarian points out that FMD is a very contagious disease and also that undeveloped countries do not have the capabilities to carry out animal health procedures that U.S. producers do.

“They aren’t FMD free. If they were, they wouldn’t have had an outbreak,” he said.

“You have to visit a third world country to understand how much different it is, their veterinary reporting, their disease control in many ways is like going back to the 1800s,” he said.

The country was also criticized by NCBA for withholding the news about the outbreak.

“NCBA has serious concerns regarding the latest report of another FMD outbreak in Namibia, a country with an unfortunate history of FMD. While Namibia has taken steps to mitigate risk of FMD through the establishment of a cordon fence and buffer zone, the occurrence of this most recent outbreak in the buffer zone and indications of delayed reporting of the outbreak to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) raises serious concerns about Namibia’s newly granted access to the United States,” Lane said.

Thornsberry agreed.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t report it right away,” he said.

“They will never be FMD free in Africa with the wildlife they have roaming,” he added. “When you are surrounded by countries that are doing nothing about FMD, it’s only a matter of time.”


R-CALF USA has criticized the importation of meat from countries with FMD problems, said Thornsberry, but because of the U.S.’s membership in the World Trade Organization, often times this country must agree to accept products from countries with less than ideal health standards.

“People need to realize that if the president doesn’t withdraw from the WTO, we will have to continue to abide by these rules. These standards are not set by USDA, they are set by WTO and the OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health),” said Thornsberry.

Thornsberry also pointed out a concern over U.S. importation of beef from countries rife with hunger.

“You have countries like Brazil and others exporting beef and pork to us when they can’t feed their own people. The same can be said for the situation in Namibia. They are sending frozen beef over here when their own people are hungry. Explain to me how that is supposed to be morally acceptable,” Thornsberry said.

The cattle rancher and veterinarian explained that FMD affects cloven hoofed animals including hogs, deer, elk, sheep, goats, in addition to cattle. While it is not often fatal to cattle, it can easily kill hogs.

Thornsberry, who has seen cattle infected with the disease, said that it causes sores on the mouth, udder and feet, which impacts production due to cows not wanting to eat, walk around to graze, or let calves nurse.

The United States, which has not had a case of FMD since 1929, would be severely affected if it affects livestock here, he said.

“If we get an outbreak, it’s going to literally devastate the livestock industry in this country.”

In many recent instances of global infection — South Korea, Japan, China, Great Britain — the disease entered each country via imported raw pork, he said.

Comparing the situation to COVID, he said this could be worse for those raising and feeding cattle. “Imagine if we get FMD here and we shut down every packing plant in the U.S.,” he said.

In effect, the economic impact of regulatory sanctions would be far more devastating than the actual disease, he said.

R-CALF has repeatedly criticized the importation of meat from countries including Namibia and Brazil that have not eradicated FMD, including those that border infected countries, he said. As recently as last February, R-CALF voiced concern over the possibility that the U.S. livestock herd could be infected by Namibian beef imports.

As of press time, the OIE listed Namibia as having a zone (the portion of the country south of the fence) that is FMD free without vaccination. ❖