Israel's Agriculture Ministry Lacks Funds to Battle Outbreak of Contagious Livestock Disease

Negev has seen sharp rise in Brucellosis, a potentially fatal affliction that can spread from animals to humans.

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The Agriculture Ministry on Wednesday requested funds totaling 100 million shekels to deal with an outbreak of brucellosis, a common disease among livestock that can spread to humans. Israel has seen a sharp increase in cases of the disease recently, particularly in the Negev. The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee discussed the issue Wednesday after many months of requests from Bedouin leaders in the Negev for help in treating animals affected with the disease, and inoculating others.

Dr. Nadav Galon, who heads the veterinary services department at the Agriculture Ministry, said during the committee meeting that the ministry prepared a detailed plan to vanquish the disease within two years, but noted that “we need 100 million shekels for the plan, which includes inoculation, putting down infected animals and electronic tracking of others.”

According to Galon, four times as many animals were inoculated thus far this year than last year, which also attests to increased awareness about the disease among farmers and shepherds.

According to Health Ministry data provided at the meeting, 2014 saw an 83 percent increase in brucellosis cases among humans over 2013, and a 30 percent rise in hospitalizations. From January 2005 until July 2015, 579 individuals were hospitalized due to the disease, and two died. The disease, which causes high fever and can be fatal, is often caused by consuming unpasteurized dairy products, eating raw meat or coming into contact with infected animal secretions. Most reported cases were in the Negev, with between 10 and 20 percent of cases affecting shepherds from the Bedouin community there.

The Agriculture Ministry is aware of the high number of cases, and notes that despite Israeli law requiring inoculations for shepherds’ flocks, the rates of inoculation in the Negev are particularly low, at roughly 30 percent, although they are slowly rising.

MK Ahmad Tibi, who initiated the meeting, said “dealing with this plague has been a total failure, reminiscent of a Third World country. There is no reason for this incompetence, because the necessary medical and agricultural knowhow is available in Israel.”

The official responsible for agricultural affairs in the Finance Ministry, Eli Bing, noted that the Agriculture Ministry’s plan will be implemented in Rahat, and budgeting to expand the program will be based on its success there.

MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), who heads the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, said that the government’s hesitation to deal with the disease endangers Israeli citizens. “It’s irresponsible, you’re endangering Israeli citizens. Any other nation wouldn’t wait a single day. I will work with MK Tibi and the Finance Ministry to find a way to allocate the entire sum as quickly as possible,” he said.

In April, Haaretz reported that the mayor of Rahat approached the prime minister and other ministries with requests to deal with the outbreak, and noted that the government was dragging its feet. “In other cases, such as avian flu, we’ve seen the government get to work quickly in dealing with the disease, but here, we don’t see it happen,” Rahat Mayor Talal al-Krenawi told Haaretz at the time.

Shepherds who were present at the meeting said the government should compensate those who lost or will lose cattle to the disease, but a representative of the Health Ministry said “we do not have a budget for reparations and thus we’re having difficulty in putting down the affected animals.” At the same time, Agriculture Ministry representatives have stated in the past that compensation will only be paid to shepherds whose animals were inoculated and documented.

In response, Alalouf asked: “If an electricity pole were to fall on the road, would anyone consider not clearing it up due to budgetary issues? These are our children.”

At the end of the meeting, Alalouf scheduled another hearing for November, and demanded updates before then from the health and agriculture ministries on their efforts at defeating the outbreak.