Animal quarantine house not improved despite sheep debacle
KARACHI, Dec 16: Despite facing huge embarrassment and criticism in the international and local media over the import and culling of thousands of Australian sheep over the past few months, the federal government has not taken any step to upgrade its facility for animal quarantine currently facing an acute shortage of funds and technical staff.
The animal quarantine house was found to be without an identification signboard during a recent visit to the facility situated off the National Highway in Razzakabad.
The quarantine house comprising a laboratory and animal sheds was found in a poor shape and it appeared as if no investment had ever been made for its repair and maintenance.
The staff present there refused to give any information saying that the media needed to take prior permission from the director of the animal quarantine for the visit.
The relevant officer had been approached twice before the visit, but he refused the Dawn team to visit the animal quarantine house on the grounds that higher officials were not willing to give permission for a media visit. He was not available for comments after the visit to the facility.
Sources told Dawn that the laboratory was almost non-functional these days as electricity supply to the facility had been disconnected for non-payment of dues of over Rs1 million while the generator being used as a replacement could not take the load of heavy laboratory equipment.
On account of lack of repair, the building housing the laboratory for detection of drug residues in animal products and microbiological tests and offices of the administration also posed a risk to the staff as parts of the ceiling had also fallen some time ago.
It also emerged that the laboratory set up along with the animal quarantine house and inaugurated in 2002 was not fulfilling its main purpose of testing drug residues in animal products as nobody could be hired as chemist in a decade, nor the laboratory had the required equipment for the purpose.
The laboratory, sources said, was used only for checking the presence of some common diseases in animals according to the requirements of an importing country or local importers and issuance of relevant health certificates.
“The lab-in-charge is currently assigned three responsibilities — he is heading the laboratory as well as looking after the animal quarantine cell at the airport and animal imports/exports. This is so because three officers facing inquiries in the Australian sheep fiasco have been sidelined from their jobs, though they are still working in the department,” said a source.
Tests for some diseases were carried out at the laboratory while samples requiring detailed testing were sent to the National Veterinary Laboratories (NVL), Islamabad.
Samples of animal products requiring residue testing were either sent to the NVL or the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Karachi.
No expansion of the quarantine house had been carried out since its establishment which could currently accommodate 500 big animals/or 3,000 to 4,000 small animals.
The quarantine department’s woes, according to sources, also have to do with its frequent transfers to at least four ministries since 2008. Initially, it was under the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock. Then, the department was transferred to the ministry of livestock and dairy development board and later to the ministry of commerce and finally the ministry of national food security and research.
These transfers to different ministries brought more inefficiency to the quarantine department and hampered continuation of policies of the department already facing funding and staff shortages, they said.
The sources said that the quarantine house had no budget for building repair and maintenance.
“When the planning and development department handed over the building, nobody raised the issue of fixing responsibility for building repairs and as such no repairs has been carried out since the facility’s establishment 10 years ago,” a source said.
Ironically, the facility facing serious funding constraints offers free service.
“What the government could at least do is to allow the facility to impose a reasonable fee for services and to open its own account so that immediate needs could be met and one does not have to go through the hassle of taking permission from top officials for day-to-day expenses,” the sources added.
They also questioned the federal government’s wisdom of keeping the animal quarantine department with it after the devolution.
The animal quarantine department had taken a lot of flak when about 22,000 Australian sheep were imported into the country in complete violation to national quarantine laws in September.
Thousands of animals had to be kept at the slaughterhouse of the local importer as the quarantine house could not accommodate a large number of animals.
Conflicting reports of laboratories of the federal (the National Veterinary Laboratories, Islamabad) and the provincial (the Poultry Vaccine Centre, Karachi and the Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Tandojam) governments about the health status of the imported animals finally led to their cull.
“None of the tests for imported sheep were carried out at the animal quarantine house in Karachi which shows that the laboratory is not working efficiently,” the source said, alleging that the facility had been deliberately kept inefficient to serve exporters’ interests.