Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of cattle and pigs. It also affects sheep, goats, deer, and many other ruminants. The virus can disseminate very quickly. It can spread by air and winds (even over sea-water), by human, rodent or other vectors that come into contact with the infected animals, their droppings, their milk or semen, their food or fodder, through imported meat from infected animals, in fact in a large variety of ways. And it may take months if not years to rid the environment of this vicious viral agent.
It is probably one of the most difficult animal infections to control or eradicate in any given area, particularly in large regions like Africa, which harbour viral reserves in wild animals or countries which have uncontrollable land frontiers with others. We, like the Indian Ocean region in general, have been fortunate to have no such impediments, are considered as an FMD-free zone and our services must go to great lengths to ensure that such continues to be the case.
The economic consequences can be quite devastating for farmers, producers and processors and for the economy, not to mention the extreme harassment of animal breeders and lovers at the sight of any botchy and insensitive culling. Outbreaks immediately catch international attention and are widely reported, often leading to processed meat export bans.
So much and more is known to any alert veterinarian. Which is why (a) the immediate notification of any suspicious FMD case is mandatory, and (b) its earliest possible treatment, culling and quarantining of the farm are so imperative.
Which is also why the authorities need to conduct a full investigation to understand and report to the population, the farming community and those who depend on that trade for their livelihood, without fear or favour:
a) where and how the virus was introduced causing the first isolated reported instances in Rodrigues. The first officially reported case seems to be 7th of July, there may have been previous indications of simmering future problems.
b) were there were any culpable lack of proactivity to circumscribe effectively what may have been isolated instances before they erupted into a disaster for Rodrigues?
c) why and under what circumstances or pressures, political, commercial or otherwise, was an effective quarantine not in place in the localised farms and, later as the virus spread, over the whole of Rodrigues?
d) how and under what circumstances were cattle or other animals allowed to travel over the sea-lanes twice since the 7th July, infecting perhaps passengers or crew?
e) given the notification of 7th July from Rodrigues to which the Ministry seems to have responded, why were animals from Rodrigues ever allowed to disembark onto Mauritian soil and carted for miles overland into local farms, spreading the virus wide and far?
We are not here going to pretend that the Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture in Mauritius are or have been incompetent in preventing the wildfire spread of the Foot and Mouth disease, turning it into an outright epidemic with major implications for animal farming in both Rodrigues and Mauritius, which as the Indian Ocean generally, were hitherto an FMD free zone.
The immediate priority right now is to contain the fire, but, as soon as possible, we need a full and independent enquiry. If only to draw the hard lessons for the future. If only to avoid such ghastly circumstances tomorrow decimating pig or poultry breeding in Rodrigues and Mauritius, the consequences of which would be a hundred times worse with even longer recovery times for safe animal farming in the country.