Red Meat Industry Forum representations: Department's response

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

24 October 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee had earlier heard submissions from the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) that expressed concern about the response by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (the Department) to recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. The Committee had therefore called for the Department to respond. The Department’s representatives said that the Department regularly held meetings with the red meat industry and disagreed with the allegations that it did not engage with the industry. It was claimed that the Department sought to provide and manage the safety of food of animal origin through its disease control schemes and meat inspection functions at abattoirs. However, it was pointed out that the industry also had to play a role. The Departments of Heath and local government also bore some responsibilities.
It was explained that South Africa had lost its foot-and-mouth disease-free zone status as a result of the outbreak of this disease in KwaZulu-Natal, but because this province was not able to assure the Department that all necessary measures were in place in order to conduct the surveillance into other possible areas of infection, the surveillance could not yet be carried out in order to reinstate South Africa to its disease-free status under the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The Department cautioned the Committee to put the submissions of the RMIF in context, and to note that the industry was profit-driven, and did not appear to be particularly concerned about the outbreak of disease, and appeared to expose the country to disease risk, but then would blame the Department when there was an outbreak, or when the Department moved in to regulate. Provincial departments were responsible for meat safety in those respective provinces. Matters listed in the RMIF submission were under investigation. In response to the offer by the RMIF to establish its own inspectorate, the Department claimed that this was not currently possible, that the proposals had several loopholes and had not been agreed to by all provinces. Until proper institutional capacity was established, the Department would have to continue with the current measures. The Minister could not approve the establishment of an independent organisation without legal backing, and could not allow abbatoir owners to do their own meat inspections. The Department also disagreed with the assertion that it had failed to address the quarantine stations, noting that import permits would be considered individually for each commodity, and by country of origin, and import risk analyses were done and conditions imposed, where necessary.

Members noted their dissatisfaction that the Minister was not in attendance, and said that she would be asked to attend the next meeting. They also agreed that the Department and RMIF clearly needed to arrange a meeting to try to resolve the issues, and suggested that Committee Members should also be present. They asked that both sides should commit to engage, and said that timeframes would be set, both for the meeting, and for whatever follow up action was necessary. A Member noted that there were many subsistence farmers who were dependent on the State for the protection of their livestock, and it was necessary to engage with nature conservation groups to discuss challenges around outbreaks.

Meeting report

Red Meat Industry Forum submissions: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries response
The Chairperson noted that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) had been invited to give a response to the concerns expressed at an earlier meeting by the Red Meat Industry Forum on South Africa’s loss of its Foot-and-Mouth-Disease-Free status, and the allegations that the Department had not acted correctly in the matter.

Mr Langa Zita, Director-General, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that Section 11 of the Animal Diseases Act stipulated that the responsibility for disease control fell upon the individual farmer. In relation to the losses in exports revenue, he noted that there were some methodological concerns as to how this study was conducted. Although it was important for the Committee to listen to the concerns of the industry, it should also be cautious about simply accepting all information, as the industry was driven by profit-needs. He denied the allegation that the Department was inaccessible to the industry. The Department would be conducting independent evaluations into South Africa’s ability to manage diseases.

Mr Botlhe Modisane, Chief Director: Animal Production and Health, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that the Department regularly held meetings with the industry and was therefore surprised by the allegation that it did not engage with the Red Meat Industry Forum (the RMIF). Although the Department agreed with certain parts of the RMIF’s submission, there were areas on which it disagreed.

The RMIF had claimed, in Paragraph 2 of its submission, that the Department did not adequately manage the safety of food of animal origin. The Department felt that it did indeed do so, through its disease control schemes and meat inspection functions at abattoirs This function also did not lie solely with the DAFF but the Department of Health, as well as municipalities, also played a role and he submitted that the RMIF also had a role to play.

In relation to Paragraph 6.3 of the RMI submission, Mr Modisane stated that South Africa had lost its foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-free-zone status as a result of the outbreak of this disease in KwaZulu-Natal. Surveillance had to be conducted into establishing other possible areas of infection before South Africa’s disease-free status could be reinstated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). As it had become obvious that this province could not give an assurance that all the proper measures were in place, this surveillance could not be undertaken.

In relation to Paragraph 6.4 of the submission, he noted that it was of concern to the Department that the industry, in its pursuit of profits, was not concerned about the outbreak of disease and appeared to expose the country to disease risk, only to blame the Department when there was an outbreak or when the Department moved in to regulate.

Mr Modisane responded to the submissions in Paragraph 9.1 by saying the industries in the countries cited had a track record of strongly supporting government initiatives around disease control.

The Department also disagreed with the statement made in Paragraph 13.1 in relation to Section 3 of the Meat Safety Act. The Constitution prescribed that provincial departments were responsible for meat safety in their respective provinces. The matter listed in Paragraph 13.2 was under investigation. The proposal to finalise independent meat inspections had several loopholes in its current format, and had not been agreed to by all provinces. Until a proper institutional capacity was established to ensure oversight throughout the independent inspection process, the Department would continue with the current measures.

Mr Modisane told the Committee, in answer to Paragraph 20 of the RMIF submission, that the Department could not have independent meat inspection, since Government had to render this service. The proposal by industry for a structure for independent meat inspection was currently being interrogated by the Minister. However, in the interests of public health, the Minister could not approve the establishment of an organisation without any legal backing to do so. He also stressed, in answer to submissions in Paragraph 23, that Government could not allow abattoir owners and companies owned by a group of abattoir owners to do their own meat inspections.

Mr Modisane denied the statement set out in Paragraph 33, in relation to section 5 of the Animal Diseases Act, that the Department had failed to address the position in relation to quarantine stations.

Mr Modisane then explained the situation as mentioned in Paragraph 34.1. Import permits would be issued for each application individually, per commodity and per country of origin. If a risk for a commodity had been determined through an import risk analysis, and the conditions for trade were specified for that specific commodity, the permit was then issued with the agreed-upon conditions. The Department was not aware of the continuous litigation mentioned by the RMIF.

Discussion
Mr L Bosman (DA) asked whether a special invitation had been sent to the Minister requesting her presence at the meeting, as was agreed upon by the Committee in its previous meeting.

The Chairperson answered that a general invitation had been forwarded to both the Minister’s and Director-General’s offices.

Ms D Carter (COPE) agreed with Mr Bosman that the Committee had agreed to specifically invite the Minister.

The Chairperson said that the Departmental representatives should convey the Committee’s dissatisfaction with the Minister’s failure to attend meetings to which the Committee had invited her.

Mr Zita replied that he was unaware of such a request and could not answer for why the Minister was not in attendance.

The Chairperson said that there was an urgent need for both the Department and industry representatives to meet in order to find ways forward on the issues at hand.

Mr Bosman agreed that this would be a necessary solution and said that some of the Committee Members could also be in attendance during such meetings.

Mr N Du Toit (DA) concurred. There appeared to be a serious communication breakdown between the Department and RMIF. Although the Committee was provided with information by both, it still did not have the full picture around the issues raised. The Committee would need to give both parties direction and timelines within which to work.

Ms Carter added that dates would need to be set for both a meeting, and to meeting other requirements.

Mr S Abram (ANC) concurred with the Chairperson and other members. The Department needed to present its documents at least a week before meeting with the Committee, as this would allow Members to study these documents. He commented that the responses given in the presentation did not take matters much further as the Department appeared to be blaming everything on everyone but itself. It must commit fully to the proposed process of engagement and should also adhere to the timeframes to be proposed.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) agreed. There were also concerns around the fact that control of disease was supposed to be the responsibility of individual farmers. There were a large number of subsistence farmers who were dependent on the State for the protection of their livestock. The Department needed to engage with Nature Conservation groups in order to avoid the challenges posed by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease coming from protected areas.

The Chairperson agreed that the Department and RMIF must meet. This matter was urgent. Each party should be given a month to address concerns, and then there must be feedback on how to move forward.

Mr Du Toit added that it was important that the Minister attended these meetings, and the Committee should send a request that she must attend.

Ms Carter asked for a commitment from both parties.

Mr Zita responded that the Department was prepared to engage with the Red Meat Industry Forum and would do so gladly.

Mr Dave Ford, Chairperson: Red Meat Industry Forum, added that the industry would also be happy to meet with the Department. In order to be effective, however, this process of engagement needed commitment from the Department at its highest level.

The meeting was adjourned.





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