Fatwa allowing Eid-al-Adha slaughter of “mildly ill” animals spares some from slaughter, but may expose thousands more
JAKARTA, Indonesia––Simultaneous foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks among cattle in Aceh and Java provinces, 1,650 miles apart, have just about everyone in the cattle, sheep, goat, and pig industries worried that a global foot-and-mouth disease pandemic may be just ahead.
The Indonesian foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, now afflicting hoofed animals in 18 of the 34 Indonesian provinces, hopping rapidly from island to island, is believed to have started in mid-April 2022, but was not detected until early May 2022.
This was just as livestock transport shifted into high gear in preparation for the annual Islamic “Feast of Atonement,” or Eid al Adha.
The Eid al Adha is the celebratory meal that ends the two weeks of ritual daytime fasting that observant Muslims worldwide practice during the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are to make, if possible, at least once in their lives.
Heads of households throughout the Islamic world customarily slaughter cattle, sheep, and goats themselves for family feasting, giving a third of the meat to their neighbors and a third to the poor.
Gifts to charity are also acceptable under Islamic law, as interpreted by most (but not all) branches of Islam.
A fatwa, or religious opinion, issued on June 10, 2022 by the Indonesian Ulema Council, governing the practice of Qurbani in Indonesia, may either reduce the amount of animal suffering, disease transmission, and death associated with the confluence of foot-and-mouth disease with the Eid al Adha, or multiply it.
Animals with “mild symptoms” meet Qurbani requirements
According to Antara, the Indonesian national news agency, “The Indonesian Ulema Council has allowed livestock infected with foot-and-mouth disease and exhibiting mild symptoms to be used for the Islamic ritual Qurbani [animal sacrifice].
Said Indonesian Ulema Council chair of fatwa issuance Indonesian Ulema Council , “Not all animals affected by foot-and-mouth disease do not meet the requirements” of Islamic law that animals slaughtered for the Eid al Adha must be healthy.
Animals suffering from mild symptoms, Asrorun Ni’am Soleh explained, may be lethargic, lack appetite, have fever, and have blisters around their hoofs and in their mouth, but will not be limping or experiencing significant weight loss.
These animals may be slaughtered for Eid al Adha consumption, not just to try to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Because their meat may be eaten, other animals need not be slaughtered to fulfill the obligation of Qurbani.
Cattle, sheep, and goats not valid for sacrifice, Asrorun Ni’am Soleh stipulated, are those with severe symptoms, such as blisters that cause the animals’ hoofs to fall off, causing them to limp or become unable to walk at all.
While the Indonesian Ulema Council fatwa may spare several thousand animals’ lives in the short run, movements of infected animals might infect tens of thousands more in the long run.
“The virus can also live on vehicle tires, clothing and footwear,” pointed out Australian Broadcasting Corporation rural affairs reporter Clint Jasper, “which is why concerns have been raised about travelers returning from parts of Indonesia to Australia recently.”
Observed Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases [ProMED] infectious diseases moderator Arnon Shimshony, “Trade in unvaccinated ruminants for the Qurbani, in foot-and-mouth disease affected regions, may turn Indonesia’s efforts to control the spread of the foot-and-mouth disease epizootic into a difficult, if not impossible, mission.”
Why Eid al Adha livestock movements are inherently high risk
Livestock transport ahead of the Eid al Adha is often associated with the spread of livestock disease outbreaks, only partially because far more animals are sent to slaughter then than during normal commerce.
Also a factor is that Eid al Adha livestock transport and slaughter practices are altogether different from those of normal commerce.
The normal year-round meat trade now mostly involves shipment of frozen carcasses from animals slaughtered relatively close to where they were raised, who tend to be transported in whole herds and have little contact with animals from other herds, let alone other regions, before they are killed.
Eid al Adha commerce, by contrast, includes bunching and shipping large numbers of live cattle, sheep, and goats who have had no prior contact with each other, and were often raised hundreds of miles apart, who are killed at their destinations only after enduring weeks and sometimes months of stress in transit, during which time their immune systems are depleted and disease transmission becomes relatively easy.
Foot-and-mouth disease compounds livestock suffering
Foot-and-mouth disease may be transmitted by any exchange of bodily fluids or even by infected animals’ breath.
Cattle, sheep, and goat transport ahead of the Eid al Adha have been associated with at least fifty livestock disease outbreaks worldwide thus far into the 21st century, according to the ProMED archives.
Most of the outbreaks, however, have been relatively small, localized, and easily contained.
Foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks tend to be different. None cost more animal lives, or cost the livestock industry more money.
For cattle, sheep, and goats, foot-and-mouth disease is the difference between being healthy before slaughter and enduring a miserable illness first.
Though the outcome for the animals is the same, foot-and-mouth disease compounds their suffering.
Australia could lose $50 billion
Australia, the nearest major livestock-exporting nation to Indonesia, “has been free of the viral disease since the late 1800s,” reported Clint Jasper, “but it remains the livestock industry’s most feared — and potentially most costly — biosecurity threat.
“An outbreak here,” Jasper said, “ would shut down Australia’s meat export industry for at least one year, instantly wiping off $25 billion of export value, according to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.
“Studies have estimated $50 billion in economic losses over 10 years if a medium-to-large-scale FMD outbreak were to occur in Australia,” Jasper said.
Elaborated Australian chief veterinary officer Mark Schipp, “If foot-and-mouth disease were to enter anywhere in Australia, all of Australia’s market access for all products of beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats and pigs would be lost.”
Foot-and-mouth disease rarely afflicts humans, producing only mild symptoms when it does, but lastingly debilitates hoofed animals, even when they survive it.
The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture is fighting the spread of foot-and-mouth disease through a combination of restricting inter-island hoofed animal transport, killing severely ill animals, and vaccinating as many animals as possible.
Struggling to find enough foot-and-mouth vaccine to protect all 17 million animals believed to be at risk, each of whom will need two inoculations in 2022 and a booster in 2023, Indonesia, with the help of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, reportedly bought three million doses from France, half a million to a million doses from Australia, and 100,000 doses each from Brazil and New Zealand.
Altogether, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture expects to need 27.2 million doses of foot-and-mouth vaccines in 2022 alone, with domestically made vaccine not expected to become available until September 2022.
Exporting nations hesitate to vaccinate
Indonesia has little hesitation about fighting foot-and-mouth disease with vaccination because Indonesia is not a livestock-exporting nation.
Australia and most other livestock-exporting nations are hesitant to vaccinate, however, preferring to kill whole herds of animals suspected of having been infected.
This is because foot-and-mouth disease is perhaps the most prominent of the many diseases covered by internationally enforced policies against importing or exporting vaccinated animals.
These policies exist because of the difficulty of distinguishing animals who have been vaccinated from animals who have developed antibodies from actual exposure to a disease, and may therefore pass the disease along.
Recounted Shimshony in 2013, “Until 1991 mass vaccinations against foot-and-mouth disease were annually applied in European Union member countries including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Italy, with satisfactory results. Under pressure of nations including the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland, this was discontinued.
“Imports of vaccinated animals and their products into the European Union were banned,” in favor of ‘stamping out’ disease outbreaks by attempting to cull all potentially exposed animals.
“Some traumatic experiences since––in particular, the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epizootic in the United Kingdom and some continental EU countries––contributed to significant changes in public opinion regarding the non-vaccination, stamping-out policy,” Shimshony continued.
The 2001 foot-and-mouth disease strain reached Britain after hitting at least 25 other nations, beginning in 1990, when it was identified in northern India.
The Pan-Asian strain, as it was called, surged across India with the illegal traffic in cattle for slaughter in the southern state of Kerala, then east, reaching Taiwan by 1999.
The Pan-Asian foot-and-mouth strain then spread west into Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and eastern Europe in waves coinciding with the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Eventually, after exploring the theory that the Pan-Asia foot-and-mouth strain reached Britain via food waste from a freight ship, many British and American scientists concluded that it more likely reached Britain as result of a sandstorm that swept northern Africa in mid-February 2001. Satellite photos showed that dust from one of the hardest-hit areas in North Africa settled in Britain seven days later––seven days before the outbreak was identified in Britain.
Rejecting vaccination was mistake for U.K.
Foot-and-mouth disease was eradicated from Britain by the end of 2001, for at least the third time in 80 years, by killing every hoofed animal on 9,677 farms, including 4.9 million sheep, 763,787 cattle, and 428,000 pigs.
Britain had only just completed culling 3.5 million cattle, over 15 years, to stop the spread of mad cow disease. Believing that effort to have been successful, albeit against a much less contagious disease transmission agent, British authorities rejected the use of vaccination to contain the Pan Asian foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
But rejecting vaccination proved to be a strategic mistake. A vaccination strategy would have ringed infected herds with immune animals before culling began, thereby keeping foot-and-mouth disease from spreading on the wind, on the clothing of workers, or in any other accidental manner.
The 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic hit The Netherlands about a month after reaching Britain.
A combined vaccination-and-slaughter campaign eradicated the Dutch outbreak within just two weeks, at cost of 265,000 animals killed––a lot, but a fraction as many as in Britain.
Nonetheless 10,000 animals were killed in the Netherlands for every actual case of foot-and-mouth disease detected.
South Korea botched 2010-2011 culling
A second wave of Pan-Asian foot-and-mouth disease hit South Korea ten years later.
The South Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries responded by hastily culling more than 1.7 million pigs, cattle, and dogs in just two months, in probably the most botched “stamping out” exercise on record.
The dogs, believed to be mostly dogs raised for meat, were culled even though dogs do not get foot-and-mouth disease.
Most of the pigs were buried alive.
Eventually 1.2 million cattle and 210,000 brood sows were vaccinated to end the outbreak, but only after weeks of appeals from international disease control experts and public protests led by the organization Korean Animal Rights Advocacy.
Despite the massacres, South Korea has continued to experience frequent local foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, and continues to cull whole herds of cattle and pigs to contain them.