Report-back by Department, Red Meat Industry Forum & National Wool Growers Association on challenges facing the industries; Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report: adoption

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

22 October 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee deliberated over the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report.  After a brief discussion, Mr L van Dalen (DA) moved the adoption of the report, seconded by Ms N Twala (ANC).

The Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), the National Wool Growers Association of SA (NWGSA), and the Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (DAFF) appeared before the Committee to make presentations on their interaction on issues needing attention among the three parties.

The Department initiated discussion of the issues raised by the two entities. These included the registration of abattoirs in terms of the Meat Safety Act, control of foot and mouth disease, the importation of meat and animal products, stock theft, and the registration of fertilizer and feed products.  Some Members felt that the presentation was not detailed enough, and that it did not do justice to the issues raised by an industry worth R25bn.

Both the RMIF and the NWGSA asserted that the Department had failed them by not addressing the issues they had been raising for the past year. The RMIF felt that it was powerless to go any further and had therefore solicited the assistance of lawyers.  Nothing was being done about pressing issues on which the existence and operation of the industry depended. There were unregistered abattoirs in Limpopo, and the absence of a meat inspection unit which should have been introduced under the Meat Safety Act of 2000. There were issues around permits issued for the importation of animals for various purposes, such as Lesotho farmers bringing their stock to South Africa for grazing. The RMIF said such permits should never have been issued. The unbranded animals created stock theft problems, as animals going back to Lesotho could be SA stock.

The NWGSA endorsed the RMIF’s presentation. The biggest problem they had had was the lack of delivery on matters which had been agreed upon.  The Association was concerned about the DAFF’s high staff turnover, which affected the continuity and cost of programmes in the industry.  Emerging farmers did not get full support from DAFF, so young people were becoming less interested in farming.  It would take years to bring them on board. The matter of rift valley fever had not been resolved.  There had been a failure of the vaccine. There were farmers in the Eastern Cape who did not trust the medicine, and therefore did not innoculate.  Johne’s Disease was a problem all over the country, but no one was talking about it and how to handle it.

The RMIF and the NWGSA acknowledged the problems faced by the Department in terms of human resources and capacity and the high staff turnover which they said affected implementation. The export market was discussed with the revelation that due to the threat of animal disease, SA could not longer export meat to the EU market, which was a severe blow to the economy.

Members of the Committee indicated they were unhappy about the revelations presented by RMIF and NWGSA, and urged the Department to act immediately to resolve the mountain of issues at hand.

Meeting report

 

Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report
The Committee deliberated over the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report.  After a brief discussion, Mr L van Dalen (DA) moved the adoption of the report, seconded by Ms N Twala (ANC)

Chairperson’s welcoming remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), the National Wool Growers Association of SA (NWGSA), the Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (DAFF) and members of the public.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had gone on an oversight visit to the hotspots of the foot and mouth disease in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The Department had had discussions with the RMIF and although their relationship was not good, the Committee had given them the opportunity to meet with each other. There had been a fruitful interaction with wool growers, but there had been matters that were beyond their control.  The Chairperson said that the presentations would be led by DAFF, who would present the outcome of the discussions they had held so far with the RMIF and the NWGSA , followed by presentations from the two entities.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries (DAFF) Presentation
Dr Mpho Maja, Director of Animal Health, DAFF, said he would update the Committee on where the Department was in respect of the concerns raised by the RMIF and the NWGSA. These related to the Meat Safety Act, the Animal Diseases Act, the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) and other matters related to the needs of wool growers.

The Meat Safety Act required that abattoirs had to be registered, in terms of Section 8, by the National Executive Officer. In terms of the Act, anyone authorized under the Act could shut down the facility if it did not comply with the requirements, and notify the Department. There had been concerns about the lack of independent meat inspection.  DAFF had indicated the year before that it would restart the process, but the stakeholders were not happy, saying there had not been enough consultation, so DAFF had restarted the process of consultation.

The industry was concerned that foot and mouth disease had lost its status in relation to the Animal Diseases Act.  DAFF had applied for the rezoning of affected areas and had submitted a new application to
the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for rezoning the infected areas. The Department had conducted a surveillance visit to KZN to look at the prevalence of foot and mouth disease in the area, and had found quite a small number of animals were positive.  With regard to the import policy, following a court order in January 2010 not to allow meat from countries where there were incidents of foot and mouth disease, DAFF had met with Mr Dave Ford of the RMIF, where such issues had been ironed out. DAFF had reported that concerns relating to quarantine stations were under the Department's control, and they were not posing a danger to the general animal population.

In response to issues raised about the importation of animals and animal products, DAFF had engaged with the industry at different levels and different organizations.  Most cases were not very well substantiated, so the investigation unit could not follow up on cases and could not prosecute anyone. Substantial evidence was needed, supported by an affidavit. The matter of fences at the borders between SA and its neighbors had been discussed. The Department had visited the KZN-Mozambique border and had indicated that the movement of animals from Mozambique to KZN through that border was the cause of foot and mouth disease. The fence issue needed an integrated approach involving other departments, as DAFF could look at stopping the movement of animals but not the movement of people. There were concerns about security services being needed to stop stock theft.

Complaints relating to Act 36 referred to the registration of products, such as provided for in the Fertilizer and Feeds Bill drafted by the Department. The Department had indicated that the feedback process was consultative, but the Feed Lot Association claimed that they had not been consulted. The Bill still needed to go through the Parliamentary process.

The Department no longer issued grazing permits as a result of RMIF complaints, though animals were still being imported for slaughter and other purposes. DAFF said that grazing permits had been issued erroneously by permit officers, and DAFF had removed the grazing part of the permit.

The Department reported on major concerns from the different commodity groups about the loss of exports due to several reasons.  The European Union (EU) had come to evaluate products in South Africa, and they had not been satisfied at all.  DAFF had consulted the industry and agreement had been reached to retain ostrich and game, since they could meet the zero use of growth stimulants criteria of the EU. Traceability was another EU requirement that SA could not meet, though the ostrich and game industry had taken up traceability on their own initiative and at their own cost, which had allowed them to continue exporting.

As far as the disease situation went in SA, there had been quite a few outbreaks in the previous year. There was an outbreak of influenza, which meant no one could export ostrich.  Pork could not be exported due to foot and mouth disease.  DAFF was awaiting the submission to OIE to reinstate the foot and mouth disease status by May 2013.

DAFF indicated that the beef industry had opted out of the European Market because of the zero tolerance criteria. The ostrich industry had also said that they were not interested in exporting to the EU anymore, but that they would save their genetic material in the country

The Department reported that the SA market was affected by decisions made by the Namibian government, such as the Namibian Small Stock Marketing Scheme. The issue had been taken up at a bilateral level and the Department had also written to the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), requesting their intervention.

The matter of dispute settlement in the Department had been addressed in the relevant Acts, and the RMIF was using the routes stipulated.

The NWGSA had also raised several issues, which included the memorandum of understanding (MOU) where the former DG had pledged R1.4m for predator management.  This amount needed to be sourced.  An MOU was also being finalized for the support of the annual shearers’ competition, as well as local competitions. It would hopefully provide R120 000 per year, for three years.

Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF)
The Chairperson said that lawyers should not be involved in the process, but it had been necessary, as matters had to be taken to court.

Adv Hilton Epstein SC delivered the presentation on behalf of the RMIF. He said that he did not share the rosy picture DAFF had painted. It was rather a picture of roses without petals.  DAFF had not been responsive in dealing with issues raised by the Forum.

Adv Epstein referred to the two documents which gave direction to the Department to do what it was supposed to do, and for the Committee to carry out its oversight role. He took the Committee through a brief history of the events that had led to the current situation. The Forum had presented to the Committee in September 2011 and the Department had responded on 3 October 2011.  A workshop had been held on 23 Nov 2011 between DAFF and the Forum.  Mr Dave Ford, chairman of the RMIF, had emerged from the meeting very confident, as the workshop had addressed a number of issues and a presentation had also been made by Mr Ford. Notes taken during the meeting had been given to the Department, but it had not responded.

The RMIF had said that the Department had not attended to several matters and that they were very frustrated that for the third time, they had come to the Committee and there was still no response. Advocate Epstein said that issues not attended to showed that DAFF was non-compliant with Section 195 of the Constitution. The matter of the abattoirs and independent meat inspection had to take place in accordance with Meat Safety Act, which had been passed in the year 2000, but there was no meat inspection unit in the country though the community was entitled to it. There was a breach of the statutory requirement in Section 11, and this was a serious failure on the part of the Department. DAFF had said that abattoir owners had refused its services, but it was a very poor service. All the Forum was asking, was for DAFF to have a meat inspection unit in the country.

He raised the issue of vacant posts, as it contributed to the problem, pointing out that 24 to 25% of posts were still vacant. There were 45 abattoirs in Limpopo that were not registered, and the Forum had asked that if DAFF had the power, they needed to close them down, as there were problems associated with them.

Regarding meat importation, master permits had been issued within a 12-month period, and they had simply been issued without reference to the decision taken at the workshop in November.  Permit issues had led to the Orion meat scandal, where meat had been incorrectly described. The Orion saga had affected the dignity of a large section of the community, as other animal hearts had been imported and labeled as veal hearts, water buffalo had been brought in as beef, and poultry from Spain had been re-labeled as halal when it was not. The Forum had taken steps to stop such a bizarre practice from continuing.  DAFF had done nothing which affected meat safety, which went to the heart of freedom of religion, and constitutional requirements. DAFF was not taking the question of imports seriously. 

Adv Epstein said that he did not follow what Dr Maja had said about KZN. The problem with foot and mouth disease was related to the fences, and nothing had been done. The industry had lodged an appeal in relation to Section 18 of the Act, where the Director was required to erect fences. Nothing had been done about it to date.

Lesotho grazing permits were still being issued by the export and import units. There was a lack of proper marking and branding of cattle coming in to graze on South African land, and they when they were taken back to Lesotho, they was no way of differentiating them from the SA stock. Permits had been issued under the Animal Improvement Act, but now that this had been stopped, they were still being issued under the Animal Diseases Act

In reference to the conduct of the Namibian Small Stock Marketing Scheme, it was in violation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements. Even though the Department had said a letter had been written to the dti, the RMIF expected more from the Department.   What was in the letter, when was it written, and was there a response?

Wool Growers Association
Mr Harry Prinsloo congratulated the Acting DG on his appointment. The NWGSA endorsed the RMIF and what they had presented. The biggest problem they had had was the lack of delivery on matters which had been agreed to.  Commodity organisations were frustrated that little or no progress had been made, especially in relation to the MOU between the Association and the Government.  Mr Prinsloo asked what more could be done to show their loyalty to the Department and their willingness to work with them, if the DAFF was not coming to the party. The Association was also concerned about the high staff turnover which affected the continuity and cost of programmes in the industry.

He raised concerns about sheep shearing, saying that it was the middle of the shearing season and they were still struggling to get a corporate permit.  The Association was trying to promote sheep shearing as a career and a trade.

The Association was also worried about the loss of prime agricultural land, as it was being converted for mining.  As far as biosecurity and animal health was concerned, the Association asked the Department to ensure that the vaccines available were effective. The whole issue of foot and mouth disease was frightening, as the EU had imposed an inspection levy on SA wool of 22c per kilo.

Mr S K Makinana, Deputy Chairperson of the Association, said he was concerned that while policies were being developed at national level, there was no delivery at local level. He expressed frustration at not being able to get a meeting with the MEC, though the NWGSA had tried since March 2012.  They had not been granted an opportunity. They had tried through the Minister, but had been told that the MECs did not report to the Minister. He asked the Committee for assistance on this matter. He also said that emerging farmers did not get full support from DAFF, so young people were becoming less interested in farming.  It would take years to bring them on board. He appealed to DAFF to provide back-up to the provincial programme for genetic improvement, as it had made a big difference.

Dr Pieter Prinsloo, Chairman of Eastern Cape Red Meat Producers, raised the matter of rift valley fever, saying that it had not been resolved.  There had been a failure of the vaccine, which had led to a study which had been confirmed by the Wool Growers Association.   A complaint had been laid in terms of Act 36, but there had been no feedback from DAFF on what had been done. He asked the Department why they had failed to do the field work after the complaints had been submitted. There were 108 complaints on the table and it had taken seven months to react to the complaints. He had visited farmers in the Eastern Cape who did not trust the medicine, and therefore did not innoculate. Mr Prinsloo also referred to Johne’s disease, which was a problem all over the country but no one was talking about it and how to handle it.

Discussion
Mr M Abram (ANC) quoted Confucius as saying that knowing what was right and not doing it, was the worst form of cowardice. He said that DAFF had failed the people of SA miserably.  Mr Abram expressed severe disappointment at the length of the presentation the Department had brought to the meeting, saying that eight pages was not sufficient to deal with so many issues of an industry worth R25bn a year. He said the Committee really needed to hold the Department to account over why certain things had not been done.

Mr B Bhanga (COPE) agreed with Mr Abram and asked the Department to take the Committee seriously in making a more detailed presentation. He said the issue of the fences at the borders needed to be raised at the cluster meetings, as the problem in KZN remained. He urged the Department to give attention to the issues raised by RMIF about bad meat, as it was poor people who ended up eating such meat. He asked the Department to bring a report to the Committee on setting up a meat inspection unit. There was something wrong with the Ministers of today, who did not want to meet with the people – it was not like that in Madiba's time. He requested the Committee to intervene in the matter so that the relevant MEC could have a meeting with community farmers. If the gaps in vacancies were not closed, problems would continue while there were no people to do the work. The 45 unregistered abattoirs in Limpopo needed to be dealt with immediately, as they posed a threat to the health of the people.

Ms A Steyn (DA) said the issues at hand were simply the targets that had not been met, and this had been discussed at the presentation of the annual report. The Department needed to note what they were not doing. The Department should provide the Committee with a list of all the diseases that were in SA at the moment.  She had received a call from a farmer in the Eastern Cape who had said that his animals had Johne’s Disease, but was told by the vet not say anything. She urged to Department to sit up and take notice of what was happening, as SA was being banned from exporting to other countries. She also asked about the staff turnover and the process the Government followed in transferring knowledge, especially in relation to the MOU with the Wool Growers Association. She asked the Acting DG if the Department was involved in the Karoo fracking debate. Who in the Department was responsible for the vaccines, and were they still relevant to the disease, as they were not sure if vaccination was still working? She asked the Department on whose land the Lesotho animals were grazing in SA. She had read somewhere that the fence around the Kruger Park was a “done deal”, but cattle had been seen roaming in the area. She asked the Department what “done deal” meant.  She suggested that the proposals made by entities who had presented, be accepted. She said if nothing happened, there would be no choice but to take the Minister to court.

Mr L van Dalen (DA) asked the Department why SA was not divided into permanent disease areas, like in Botswana. He urged the Department to think about the catastrophic effect of the current situation. South Africa should not be worried about the EU, but about the health of its own people. When a situation was allowed to prevail, where an outbreak of a disease was not declared and a state vet told people not to say anything, then there was a serious a problem.  He said that Ms Zoleka Caba, the MEC for Agriculture for the Eastern Cape, was notorious for not meeting with stakeholders. He urged the Department to respond to every issue raised at the meeting.

Ms N Phaliso said that the issue of fences needed an integrated approach among all Departments involved. DAFF needed to bring a list of all registered abattoirs, broken down by province, as there had to be a reason why there were unregistered ones.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) said the ram exchange programme had been successful thus far, and it was time that the Department boosted it as a job creation initiative to improve livestock for poor people.  He also joined his colleagues in requesting the Department to deal with the meat problems affecting poor people, as well as issues of grazing and the filling of vacant posts in the Department.

Ms N Twala (ANC) asked why there was silence on Johne’s Disease, as it was a dangerous disease. Poor communities usually suffered a lot from their animals having diseases, and the Department should pay urgent attention to it.

Ms Steyn said that she had visited Mount Fletcher in the Transkei area where she had met a health technician who did not have cold storage facilities for the vaccines that they had to take out to the farmers. She said equipment was needed so as not to break the cold chain. She asked why rift valley fever had not received any attention after so many months.

The Chairperson said that there needed to be timelines for what the Department needed to do, in response to the concerns raised by the various actors. The Department should bring a report on how it was going to address the issues presented in the meeting.  Dr Maja requested that RMIF provide a list of the unregistered abattoirs it had referred to in its presentation, so the Department could check them out.

The meeting was adjourned.


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