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Farmers Fight State’s Livestock Auction Ban

Nationwide foot-and-mouth ruling affecting KZN business

The Mercury

14 Jan 2020

LYSE COMINS and THAMI MAGUBANE

AUCTIONEERS, a co-operative and farmers who claim their businesses have been adversely affected by the nationwide ban on livestock auctions have applied for an urgent interim court order to lift the ban.

JS Auctioneers t/a Swarico Auctioneers, Jan Steinman, Livestock Owners Agricultural Primary Co-Operative Limited, Concerned Farmers and Allround Sterkfontein CC filed an application in the Pretoria High Court that will be heard today.

KwaZulu-Natal farmers and large and small auction houses said yesterday that the ban was affecting their businesses.

The high court application asks the court to grant an order to allow them to continue with auctions outside Limpopo, after a nationwide ban the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform imposed in December following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in that province.

The ban aimed to contain the outbreak of the disease in November.

The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Director-General for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the MEC of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, North West province and the director of the Directorate of Animal Health have filed a notice of intention to oppose the application.

A separate court application has also been lodged to review and set aside the temporary ban on livestock auctions in North West province, Gauteng, Free State and Northern Cape.

In court papers, the applicants argue that auctioneers had bio-security and recording measures in place and that they had continued with auctions until December 3 with no evidence the auctions had contributed to the spread of FMD beyond Limpopo.

“The ban on auctions nationally will not result in the effective management of FMD and containment thereof… the decision as gazetted (albeit to be addressed comprehensively in a review) is vague or void, inter alia as it provides for auctions only after animals were kept for 28 days, ostensibly at the premises of the auctioneer,” the court papers said.

“To continue with the ban on auctions in all nine provinces would lead to the demise of auction houses and suppliers (farmers and their workers).”

They argue that the ban should be lifted pending the finalisation of veterinary investigations.

In its opposing court papers, the government argues that the ban “is reasonable and rational and is necessary to maintain the export status of the RSA”.

“The current FMD outbreak was traced to two auction houses in Limpopo selling infected animals, and therefore the justification to ban auctions.” The government further argues that the decision will be revised once it has completed its investigations, and that to allow the applicants to continue with auctions outside of Limpopo would facilitate the spread of FMD and discriminate against other auction houses.

A Kokstad-based attorney acting for the applicants, Andries Andreas Peens, said he had met with the State attorneys yesterday and he expected the government to make an application to ask for more time in court today.

“In the meantime this is affecting the economy of the industry,” Peens said.

“We are suffering because the department did not do its jobs when there was an outbreak a year ago,”said the chairperson for the Van Reenen Farmers’ Association, Cornell Campher.

“This process has dropped the value of the animals; people are paying much less then they normally would,” he said.

He said that only auctions had been banned and that farmers were still able to sell to individual customers.

Campher added that in December the association lost about R3.7million in sales; this month it was estimated they would lose about R15m.

Thubelihle Zondi of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa FSA KZN said emerging farmers were being severely hampered by the auction ban.

“We have lost millions. We are not part of the court action but we support it. If the department does not lift the ban, they could at least allow the auctions to continue and quarantine the livestock,” he said.

Noko Masipa, the DA MPL and member of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said: “It is unfortunate that amid a national drought, farmers are now being forced to go to court to ensure they can conduct ordinary business of trading livestock.

“The severity of this outbreak cannot be downplayed as the last outbreak of FMD in January 2019 resulted in a brief ban on South African wool and meat exports that cost the economy in excess of R10billion,” she said.

Department of Agriculture and ministerial spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo declined to comment while the matter was sub judice.