Israel to Privatize Vaccinations for Sheep and Goats

Farmers and vets up in arms; say this increases the risk of illness and is liable to harm the supply of meat and milk.

Eyal Toueg

The Agriculture Ministry has decided to privatize vaccinations for sheep and goats against plague and pox. The farmers are supposed to vaccinate privately, thereby saving the ministry millions of shekels and providing work for private veterinarians. But farmers and veterinarians say this increases the risk of illness and is liable to harm the supply of meat and milk and expose the public to illnesses.

Until recently the Veterinary Service of the Agricultural Ministry administered the four obligatory vaccinations for sheep and goats. But according to farmers and vets this significantly increases the cost of the vaccinations, especially for small flocks, and that enforcement is weak. They say that soon the growers will find a way to avoid vaccinating and a black market will emerge.

Although privatization is common in Europe, the situation is different here. Sixty percent of the sheep are owned by Negev Bedouin and many sheep in the Palestinian Authority are under Israeli control. The moment the system privatizes the vaccination it undermines the effectiveness of the entire veterinary system, farmers and vets say, adding that the level of protection will decline and the level of risk of an outbreak of plagues will increase. And it’s already happening, because there were two outbreaks of pox in the area recently.

The farmers say that when all the vaccinations were done by the Veterinary Service at very low cost there was widespread cooperation, even from owners of the many small herds. The cost of a vaccination administered by the state is 1.70 shekels (44 cents) per head, while the private vaccination raises the price nearly tenfold. The bottles of vaccinations issued for vets contain 100 doses, and can be used for only three hours once opened. A bottle costs 850 shekels plus the vet’s fee. For example, one farmer said he used to pay 350 shekels for the entire herd of 150 sheep, and now he has to pay 2,300 shekels. For those with only a few sheep the costs are hundreds of shekels per head, which will probably lead small farmers to stop vaccinating. If a disease breaks out, said one farmer, he’ll pay the price because the entire area will be quarantined.

One veterinarian explained that the preparation and explanation to the growers, especially the small ones on the periphery and in the West Bank, where there are young and inexperienced growers who want to succeed, was faulty. There was almost no guidance about what must be done, what has changed. Most discovered it only when they didn’t receive permits to transfer their sheep.

The Agriculture Ministry responded: “In recent years the ministry has been working to privatize all the vaccinations for animals, as part of the policy of a change from implementation to supervision. All but two vaccinations are now done by private vets. And the fact is that there hasn’t been a problem with any vaccination to date. In addition, vaccinations for much more dangerous diseases, like rabies, were privatized years ago. The process was carried out over a period of more than two years and included a precise risk assessment. The previous system model doesn’t exist in any other Western country and is a waste of public resources.”