A medical board comprising five experts, constituted on the order of the Sindh High Court (SHC), said late on Saturday night that its preliminary findings showed no evidence of anthrax in imported Austrian sheep.
The board, headed by Dr Rafiq Khanani of the Dow University of Health Sciences, recommended a halt in the culling of the sheep, which are said to be infected with the highly contagious OFR disease as well.
It said it was making the recommendation based on its initial findings and would present a formal report before the SHC on Monday. It suggested that the culling be stopped till Monday when it would present its report to the high court.
A division bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar, had ordered the team on Saturday morning to obtain blood samples to ascertain whether the animals were infected with anthrax or not.
The court was hearing an application of the importer who sought stay against the government’s order for culling 21000 imported Australian sheep, which are said to be infected.
The importer, Tariq Mehmood Butt, had purchased the sheep for slaughter purpose but the sheep were later found infected with highly contagious diseases. He challenged the capability of the Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre and its report on the basis of which the livestock department ordered the disposal of the sheep.
The petitioner, who purchased the consignment after it was refused by an importer in Bahrin in August, sought an injunction against the culling of the sheep, contending that the animals were not infected or having any disease. He prayed to court to restrain the government functionaries from harassment or arrest in the case.
The livestock department had ordered the disposal of the sheep after its experts found them infected and unfit for human consumption.
Director Poultry Vaccine Center Dr Nazeer Kalhoro submitted that suspected anthrax cases were detected in three dead sheep, which had been secretly transferred to another farm by the importer.
He said that he along with a team of veterinary experts, the husbandry commissioner, livestock officials visited the farm in the presence of a magistrate and asked the petitioner’s representative to verify that the deaths of the three sheep were not caused due to anthrax.
According to the director, the decomposition of the carcass indicated anthrax, a fatal veterinary disease. Therefore, he said, the carcasses of sheep were burnt and buried and the farm was sealed. He also submitted that the sheep were examined and symptoms indicated that they sheep also carried the OFR disease, which was highly contagious. However, his claim was disputed by the petitioner’s counsel, who submitted that his client’s representative was not consulted on the entire exercise.
The petitioner’s counsel, Adnan Memon, further said that the Poultry Vaccine Centre was neither competent nor capable of carrying out the test as reflected through the report. He said the National Veterinary Laboratory also cleared the sheep from food and mouth disease; therefore, the government department had no strong concrete evidence that the animals were infected with contagious bacteria or diseases. Dr Rafiq Khanani of the Dow University of Health Sciences, who appeared to assist the court, said provisional testing of anthrax could be made within four hours.
The petitioner’s counsel said that he would have no objection if samples were obtained and tested with regard to anthrax. However, he prayed to court to direct that in case anthrax was not detected after the provisional test then the orders for culling be stayed. The court also heard the animal husbandry commissioner, public health expert Dr Sabina Jalal, to seek their expert opinion about the sheep.
A division bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar, observed that the matter was of serious nature and directed Dr Rafiq Khanani, animal husbandry commissioner, the livestock secretary and other health experts concerned to immediately take samples from suspected sheep in order to determine whether there was any possibility of anthrax and to submit a report.
The bench observed that in case the team did not find any sign of anthrax in the herd, this finding would be recorded and duly signed in the presence of all officials concerned.
It further observed that nobody would try to hamper or delay the exercise and the matter would be taken up on Monday so that appropriate order was passed in light of such a report.
The court observed that despite the court orders, the petitioner’s counsel did not produce all the relevant record pertaining to the import of the sheep to Pakistan. The counsel was directed to place on record the material to show what transpired in Bahrin which caused the diversion of the consignment to Pakistan and all such other documents if any which may conclusively show that no disease, infection, contamination and bacteria or virus was found in the sheep by the time it reached Bahrin and during the time it remained there. The SHC also ordered the constitution of a veterinary board comprising doctors for re-evaluation testing of the Australian sheep to ascertain whether they were infected with the ORF disease or otherwise.
The claim of the petitioner was that none of the sheep was either diseased or infected with any disease at all. He submitted that the consignment was cleared by the Australian government as well as by the national veterinary laboratories and that a provisional release order was issued by the quarantine officer (import), national food security and research animal quarantine department for the use of sheep for slaughter purpose.