People don’t think of the far-reaching consequences of an action like bringing fruit illegally across the border, or of buying unmarked pigs at an auction. It might be out of innocence and ignorance that biosecurity measures are flouted, but the revenue lost can amount to billions of rand which can bring a whole sector to its knees – and threaten the livelihoods of thousands.

Biosecurity analyses and manages risks in the sectors of food safety, animal and plant life and health, including the associated environmental risk. It encompasses the policy and regulatory frameworks.

Investing in its capacity to control disease and to protect its food systems is in a country’s interest. Biosecurity is a national and regional issue.

Biosecurity and the livestock farmer

For detailed and specific information about applying biosecurity principles to your operation, consult your veterinarian or the relevant commodity/trade association e.g. the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) and National Emergent Red Meat Producer Organisation (NERPO), whose notes on precautionary measures to protect your herd against diseases acquired because of external contact can be found here.

While developing and maintaining biosecurity is difficult, it is the cheapest, most effective means of disease control available, and no disease prevention programme will work without it.

Infectious diseases can be spread between operations by:

  • the introduction of diseased cattle or healthy cattle incubating disease
  • introduction of healthy cattle who have recovered from disease but are now carriers
  • vehicles, equipment, clothing and shoes of visitors or employees who move between herds
  • contact with inanimate objects that are contaminated with disease organisms
  • carcasses of dead cattle that have not been disposed of properly
  • feedstuffs, especially high risk feedstuff which could be contaminated with faeces
  • impure water (surface drainage water, etc.)
  • manure handling and aerosolised manure and dust
  • non-livestock (horses, dogs, cats, wildlife, rodents, birds and insects)

Biosecurity has three major components: Isolation, Traffic Control, Sanitation.

  1. Isolation: The most important step in disease control is to minimise commingling and movement of cattle.
  2. Traffic control includes traffic onto your operation and traffic patterns within your operation. It is important to understand traffic includes more than vehicles. All animals and people must be considered. Animals other than cattle include dogs, cats, horses, wildlife, rodents and birds.
  3. Sanitation addresses the disinfection of materials, people and equipment entering the operation and the cleanliness of the people and equipment on the operation.
Source: adapted from Biosecurity Basics for Cattle Operations and Good Management Practices (GMP) for Controlling Infectious Diseases, published by Institute of Agricultural and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Zoonoses: diseases of livestock that can affect humans

The word zoonosis has its origins in the Greek zoon, meaning animal, and nosos meaning disease. In 1959, the World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Zoonoses, defined zoonoses as “those diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man”.

Zoonotic diseases are an occupational hazard for all those who work with livestock, including farmers and their workers, veterinary staff, those in the abattoir and dairy industries and, ultimately, the consumers of animal products like meat, dairy products and eggs.

Preventing the transfer of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans rests on three pillars. The first of these is keeping animals healthy through good management, vaccinations and parasite control. The second pillar is personal hygiene and attention to healthy working conditions in the livestock industry – particularly details like the provision of good ventilation and accessible ablution blocks. The third pillar is food hygiene, maintaining a cold chain and the inspection and quality control of animal products from the farm to the table. If these three pillars are kept in place, the chance or risk of catching any disease from an animal is very low – you are much more likely to catch diseases from other people! Prevention is better than cure; however, if you suspect you have a zoonotic disease, it is advisable to consult a medical practitioner as soon as possible.

Further details on the symptoms and treatment of zoonotic diseases are obtainable on the World Health Organisation ( and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( websites.

The following table, used courtesy of Prof CME McCrindle (Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria), summarises the most important zoonotic diseases of livestock and gives some idea of how to prevent them being transmitted.

DiseaseHow it is transmitted  Symptoms in humansPrevention
AnthraxContact with blood, skins or meat of diseased cattle, sheep, goats and pigsSkin, lung and intestinal forms; may be fatal if untreated.Vaccinate cattle every year. Notify state vet if there are sudden deaths in livestock. Do not slaughter and eat sick animals.
Avian InfluenzaContact with diseased birds infected with the virulent strainInfluenza-like symptoms; often fatal in peopleDo not handle dead birds of any species without gloves, face-masks and protective clothing.
BotulismConsumption of meat or other foods contaminated with the spores or toxins of Clostridium botulinumFlaccid paralysis of muscles; it progresses until the patient cannot sit or stand, and eventually is unable to breathe.Vaccinate cattle. Food hygiene and cooking at high temperatures.
Bovine brucellosisInhalation of or contact with blood or birth fluids of infected cattle; drinking unpasteurised milkAcute symptoms look like malaria or influenza; chronic intermittent fever, joint problemsVaccination of heifers, regular testing of cattle herd. Hygienic handling of aborted material or afterbirths. Pasteurise milk.
Bovine tuberculosis and human tuberculosisInhalation of droplets from coughing cows; drinking unpasteurised milkNodules on the skin and in the lymphnodes; chronic weight loss, severe cough with bloody phlegmWorkers in dairies must be checked regularly for TB. Dairy cattle must be tested regularly for TB. Pasteurise milk.
 BSEConsumtion of brain, lymphnodes or spinal tissue of affected cattleChronic nervous symptoms that become worse; always fatal as it is incurablePrevent the disease coming into South Africa. Test cattle that die after showing nervous symptoms.
 Bacterial wound infectionsCuts and wounds that are exposed to animal manure, pus and would infections of animalsAbscesses, gangrene and “blood poisoning”Wash and disinfect all wounds immediately using running water. Cover wounds if working with animals, meat or milk.
 Bubonic plagueBites by rat fleas “Bubon” forms in inguinal lymphnode, fatal pneumonia Rat control. Control fleas on animals – including goats, dogs and cats.
 ColibaccilosisConsumption of food, water or other material containing the organism Escherichia coliSevere acute gastroenteritis; if caused by Ecoli serotype 0157, severe bloody gastro-enteritis and organ failureFood hygiene. Clean drinking water (prevent it being polluted by human and animal excreta). Wash hands after handling animals and before eating.
CryptosporidiosisConsumption of food, water or other material containing the organism CryptosporidiumSevere chronic diarrhoea, difficult to treatPrevent water being contaminated with human or animal excreta. Wash hands after handling animals and before eating.
Congo FeverContact with the blood of infected animals or bites by the tick Hyalomma spp., or infected peopleMuscle pains, fever, severe haemorrhage under the skin and internally; highly fatal.Do not crush ticks with your fingernails. Use tick repellents when working in areas with high tick levels.
Pseudo Cowpox (Bovine Orf)Contact with infective nodules on cow teatsRed inflamed nodule on the handsHygiene during milking. Prevent transmission between cows.
Neuro-cysticercosisConsumption of the eggs of the pig tapeworm Taenia soliumCysts on the brain can lead to epilepsy and madness in people.Personal hygiene – wash your hands well and scrub your nails before eating.
Diamond skin disease (Erysipelas of pigs)Contact with the skin, meat or blood of infected or carrier pigsLarge painful nodule on the hands. Can also cause vegetative endocarditis (growths on the heart valves).Vaccinate pigs against Erisipelas.
 Hydatid diseaseConsumption or ingestion of the eggs of the tapeworm EchinococcusLarge cysts on the brain, lungs or in the liver of peopleDo not feed raw meat, especially cysts from sheep carcasses, to dogs.
 LeptospirosisContact with pigs or cattle infected with the disease; contact with infected waterKidney failure, jaundice and liver failure; responds well to antibiotic treatment.Control rats (they carry the disease). Test for the disease in livestock if there are abortions.
 OrfContact with sheep or goats infected with orfContagious ecthyma, red swollen areas of skin of hands or faceWash hands well and do not touch your face while working with sheep or goats.
 Q-feverInhaling dust in the kraals, contact with aborted material from cattle, sheep and goats; drinking unpasteurised milkSwollen lymphnodes and interstitial pneumoniaWear masks if working in dusty kraals; protective clothing when working with aborted foetus and uterine fluids. Pasteurise milk.
 PsittacosisInhalation of the droppings or blood of infected pigeons, parrots, ducks and turkeysSevere coughing which can result in heart failure and death if untreatedHave sufficient ventilation when working in pigeon or poultry houses. Use a face mask and gloves if doing necropsies on dead birds.
 RabiesBites by infected dogs, jackals, cattle, horses, sheep, wildlife Mania and deathVaccinate all dogs. If cattle or any other animals show symptoms, call the state veterinarian URGENTLY. If bitten, go straight to a clinic or doctor and inform the state vet.
 Rift Valley FeverMosquito bites during an outbreak, contact with blood or aborted material from infected sheep or cattleFever, retinitis with haemorrhage and edema, causing blindness. Encephalistis, liver and kidney failure. Can be fatal.Vaccinate sheep if there is an outbreak. Use protective clothing and masks if working with infected animals or carcasses. Control mosquitoes.
RingwormContact with infected animalsRound, scaley skin lesionsTreat animals with ringworm. Consult a physician if you become infected.
SalmonellosisConsumption of food, water or other material containing the organism Salmonella; contact with animals infected with SalmonellaSevere gastro-enteritis which can be fatal in the very young and the elderly. Sometimes septicaemia and organ failure.Food hygiene. Prevent contamination of food with animal faeces. Remember personal hygiene and wear protective clothing if working with sick animals or their faeces.
 Sarcoptic mangeContact with infected pigs, dogs and catsSmall red itchy areas on the skin due to infection by the mite Sarcoptes scabeiTreat and control sarcoptic mange in animals.
Tick bite feverBites by ticksBlackened area after 10 days where bitten by a tick; severe headaches.Consult a physician for treatment with antibiotics.
ToxoplasmosisConsumption of poorly cooked mutton or pork; ingestion of soil contaminated with cat faecesGranulomas in the brain of HIV positive people; abnormalities in newborn children if mothers infected while they are pregnantCook meat well. Scrub hands and nails before eating, particularly after digging in gardens.
Source: Prof CME McCrindle, Section head of Veterinary Public Health, Department of Paraclinical Sciences, at the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria.

National strategy and government contact

Biosecurity legislation includes:

  • Agricultural Pests Act of 1983 (Act No. 36 of 1983)
  • The Animal Diseases Act 1984 (Act No. 35 of 1984)
  • Animal Health Act, 2002 (Act No.7 Of 2002)
  • Animal Improvement Act, 1988 (Act No. 62 of 1988)
  • Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act of 1947 (Act No. 36 of 1947)
  • Meat Safety Act of 2000 (Act No. 40 of 2000)
  • Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 1965 (Act No. 101 of 1965)
  • Plant Improvement Act, 1973 (Act No. 53 of 1973)
  • Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act of 1982 (Act No. 19 of 1982)

Plans are also well under way to create a Border Management Agency, a single entity that will manage the entire border environment and all ports of entry. The Border Management Authority Bill, signed into law in July 2020, will make provision for this.

The provision of safe, nutritious food to the population remains the mandate of the South African Government as envisioned in Section 27 of the Constitution. This mandate underpins the importance and interrelationship between biosecurity and food security.


Biosecurity, which is broadly defined as the ability to protect human, animal and plant life and health, is critical for national and international production and trade. The growing impact of globalisation and increased agricultural trade creates more potential for the spread and introduction of pests and diseases. Animal and plant pests and diseases not only affect food safety and security, but also threaten biological diversity and the status of natural resources. This has important consequences for agricultural economic development and competitiveness of South Africa in the global sphere.



Source: Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP), page 78

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD)

Find notes on all of the DALRRD directorates at (take the “Branches” menu option).

Directorate: Plant Health Tel: 012 319 6102/6130/6207 PlantHealthPermits [at]

This Directorate manages all risks associated with plants and plant products to protect South African agriculture from quarantine and regulated pests. Quarantine Stations:

  • Buffelspoort / Marikana – 014 572 3120
  • Stellenbosch – 021 809 1600
  • Bloemfontein – 051 447 6227
  • Cape Town International Airport – 021 934 6824
  • Durban – 031 337 2755
  • Johannesburg International Airport – 011 390 2579
  • Port Elizabeth – 041 484 2725
  • East London – 043 722 1978
  • Nelspruit – 013 755 4527
  • Oudtshoorn – 044 279 1744

Directorate: Animal Health Tel: 012 319 7514/7476 Mpho.Maja [at]

Find the lists of contacts and information under the “Food and veterinary services” option. This directorate controls and certifies the health status of animals/animal products for import/export, including the provision of quarantine facilities. It negotiates protocols on the import and export of animal/animal products.

Directorate: Veterinary Public Health Tel: 012 319 7688 / 7572 VetPermits [at]

State Veterinary Services sponsor the testing for certain animal diseases. Please contact your nearest State veterinarian office or Provincial office for advice (contact details on the “Animal health” page). For a detailed list of Government Veterinary Laboratories in SA visit (take the “Branches”, “Animal Health” and “Epidemiology” options).

Biosecurity can be undermined (and animals suffer) when farmers make an incorrect diagnosis of an animal disease and administer stock remedies. And biosecurity is impossible when many farms have never even seen a veterinarian and diagnosis of even mass mortalities are unknown by the Department of Agriculture. Find the list of provincial contacts for state veterinarians on the “Animal health” page.

For information regarding liquor products, call 011 971 5138/ 012 319 6137 or send an e-mail to NjokoS [at]

For information on the department’s inspection services and procedures,  contact the Directorate: Inspection Services at 012 309 8701 or e-mail ErnestP [at]

The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development meeting (28 July 2020) includes an Update on Animal Disease Status.

Department of Health

Find the contact details list of the Port Health Services at

Role players



National Animal Health Forum (NAHF)

Find the various commodity representatives on the relevant Agribook pages e.g. Poultry Disease Management Agency on the poultry page, South African Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC) on the Ostrich page etc. All of these – as well as associations like LWCC, RuVASA, SAVA and SAVC – are stakeholders in the NAHF. Other role players are:

  • Agri Inspec
  • The statutory levies for the different sectors address, amongst other issues, the health and hygiene systems in those sectors. Visit the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) website at
  • National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD)
  • South African Animal Health Association (SAAHA)


Training and research

  • Find details of the institutions and universities on the “Animal health” page.
  • Included in the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)-accredited qualifications are ones like “Observe and inspect animal health” and “Explain the prevention and treatment of animal diseases”. Find the Qualifications and Learning Material option at
  • For specific information pertaining to disease control, please contact the Central Reference Laboratory at 012 529 8000 or write to Private Bag X04, ONDERSTEPOORT, 0110.



Animal health companies manufacture vaccines and promotes biosecurity within the continent. Find their details on the “Animal health” page.

Websites and publications


Some articles



Regional Plant Protection Organisations (RPPOs):

  • APPPC, Asia And Pacific Plant Protection Commission –
  • CA, the Andean Community (South America) –
  • COSAVE, Bienvenidos al Comité de Sanidad Vegetal del Cono Sur (South American countries around Brazil) –
  • EPPO, European And Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation – 
  • IAPSC, Inter African Phytosanitary Council of the African Union –
  • NAPPO, North American Plant Protection Organization –
  • OIRSA, Organismo Internacional Regional De Sanidad Agropecuaria (South American countries near the Panama canal: Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador etc) –

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