Meat Inspections & Labeling in SA: Depts of Agriculture, Health, Trade & Industry, Stellenbosch & Western Cape Universities

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Meeting Summary

The Universities of Stellenbosch and Western Cape presented their research findings to the Portfolio Committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Health (DoH) and Trade & Industry (DTI). These institutions and departments were bound together by the fundamental principles of food security and safety and had to collaborate to ensure the Consumer Protection Act food safety, security and labeling compliance and pool resources and capacity to maximize efficiency and cover all bases.

Aside from determining the extent of compliance in the meat industry, the research was intended to stimulate public debate and create awareness of consumer rights. Since the regulations were new, it was expected that there would be findings of mislabeling. If even some producers and retailers were not compliant, others would emerge in the race to make a profit and the situation could become dangerous for consumers. DNA testing of species was challenging as there was a great deal of genetic variability and differentiation of species in Southern Africa and the DNA genetic database was incomplete.

Another matter was how to deal with cultural and religious slaughtering of animals which was not performed at registered abattoirs and which were self-regulating. However, slaughtering practices in informal settings involved slaughtering and consumption of fresh meat. Of more concern was selling of cheap meat and “funny business” occurring at processing facilities. The large retail stores would not risk their reputation and subject themselves to the penalties associated with non-compliance.

While Municipal Health Services (MHS) had been devolved from provinces to district and metro municipalities, there was general consensus that local government was not capacitated to enforce implementation of the law. Local authorities were trying to find funding for food safety solutions but funding of water safety, for example, was prioritized over food safety. Coordination and efficient use of resources had become challenging. Training of health officials for food inspection needed to increase at the technology institutions. The priority was the consumer.

The Departments briefed the Committees on meat inspection and labeling in South Africa. They assured Members that research findings did not allude to food being unsafe. The issues were more about ignorance and unintended inaccuracy due to categorization and classification rather than deliberate mislabeling of goods. However, laws were in place, implementation of the law was clearly lacking and the general public had the right to be informed on what they were eating. Cost-risk and health benefit analysis would be considered, as the technology necessary for sampling and enforcement of compliance was expensive. Department officials were committed to working together with researchers in the industry to develop a strategy to address the issues. This would be done within the following three to five months.

The Red Meat Industry Forum proposed that an inter-ministerial committee be appointed and that it should include a compliance component. Findings in the studies by the universities was a second red light. RMIF had brought the first red light with the Orion case.

Members asked if imported meat could be traced - to its destination facility and final product; whether inspection at ports of entry were reliable; and the reason and cost factor for importing meat versus locally-produced good quality food. They asked how tests for verification of ‘undeclared meat species’ could be conducted when the DNA database was not complete; for clarity on massive amounts of undeclared species found versus traces of these species found - traces appeared to be a contamination factor that could be corrected. Finally, Members asked how many abattoir inspectors there were and how many inspections had been conducted; for the report on inspection of meat services and where these inspections had taken place; what action had been taken to penalise those who were found by the research studies to have transgressed the law on labeling; what was being done to increase local production to minimize the problem with imported animal species being substituted in meat products.
The Committee agreed that the departments would need to return before June recess (within three months) with a clear plan on how collaboration would work going forward – whether it was on labeling, safety, research, food control, traceability, brining, registration of abattoirs, or education of consumers. Cabinet had taken a view on the matter that DTI would oversee consumer protection and this was not far from what the current meeting was about. Subsidies and tariffs could be measures which would allow South Africa to protect locally produced products and the vulnerable agriculture labour. The majority of beef supplied by South Africa was in the hands of communal livestock farms and production at this level could be enhanced.

Meeting report

The Chairperson had received apologies from the DTI, which was engaged in a meeting on BRICS in Durban, and the Chairperson from the Portfolio Committee on Health, who was abroad. The research teams from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and University of Stellenbosch (SU) had been invited to present the highlights of their research findings on meat sampling in South Africa after which Department regulations and expectations would be discussed. These bodies would need to collaborate and pool resources to optimize oversight on food security and safety.

University of the Western Cape presentation
Prof Eugenia D'Amato, Associate Professor: Department of Biotechnology; University of Western Cape said that the objective of the investigation (2009-2011) which was published in Investigative Genetics three weeks earlier, was to sample meat in main supermarkets, delis, small shops and specialized biltong shops. DNA was extracted for sequence identification and reliability of results was tested against matches using public genetic databases. However, a match was not conclusive that the species was present.  Clusters of DNA sequences were classified according to main diagnostic characters per group of animals identified.

A pie chart summarized the percentage of samples which had substitutions: 69% of biltong samples and 86% of droewors and sausage samples included species that were not indicated in the labels. Of the mislabeled game samples, nearly 43% labeled as game species were actually beef and a similar proportion showed other game species. Minor proportions of horse were found in springbok biltong and minor proportions of pork were found in ostrich sausage. Smaller proportions of kangaroo, sheep and Cape Mountain Zebra were also found in game samples and not indicated in the labels.

The major challenge of the research project was that currently there was scarce information for some species in the databases, particularly zebra and some species were not represented at all. Further research was required to distinguish between species. A major challenge for the African continent was that the species diversity of wild game was high and these could all find their way into the market.

University of Stellenbosch (SU) presentation
Prof Louw Hoffman, Head of Department of Animal Sciences & Meat Scientist: University of Stellenbosch; & South African Research Chair (SARChI) for Science & Technology said that the meat sampling study had commenced in mid 2012 and was financed by SU. The point of the study was to determine to what extent meat labeling in the meat industry - from major supermarkets to small butcheries - complied with the new labeling regulations; and to stimulate public debate and public awareness. It was expected that since the regulations were new, there would be findings of mislabeling but the study was not conducted with the intention to name and shame shops with findings of non-compliance. Whole meats were not sampled. Mixed sausages and minced meat were of interest.

During the sampling, 95 of the 135 samples contained undeclared species. They were not unsafe but people had the right to know exactly what they were eating. Only one sample contained donkey meat. Pork and chicken were also found and had not been included on the label. These were typically added as fat and a cheaper meat protein source but again, the issue was that it was not labeled. Water buffalo was also not included in labeling but the reason for this seemed to be owed to the fact that it had been classified as bovine (beef) in the previous classification system. However, it was now not in compliance with the new regulations.

The slaughtering of donkey was of concern - whether it was slaughtered in a formal abattoir or informal system (back door). Another concern was that allergens that were not mentioned in the label could cause a reaction in 20% of consumers. The study was published widely, it showed that SA was not compliant, and public debate had been stimulated. The DoH had subsequently requested SU to test samples. The problem however was that DoH did not have a budget for this and SU was taking on the research job at cost price. DNA analysis was not cheap.

SU advised DoH that the big retailers were self-regulatory and not a major concern. They sent their samples to labs for species identification, as they could not afford to sell meat which contained donkey or kangaroo. The concern was the poorer consumer. DoH had commissioned research on meat sampling in poor communities and would reveal the results. The poor consumer had as much right as the upper income consumer to know what he was eating.

Department of Trade & Industry presentation: Meat Labeling in South Africa
Mr Andisa Potwana, Director: Consumer Law & Policy, Department of Trade & Industry said that the DTI's role was informed by the CPA, which covered a wide range of consumer protection issues, including the consumer's right to: understand the language of meat labeling; and disclosure of the price of goods. Section 24(3)(a) prohibited a retailer from offering to supply, display or supply any goods if the retailer reasonably could determine or had reason to suspect that - (I) a trade description applied to those goods was likely to mislead the consumer; and (ii) a trade description or trade mark had been altered, covered or defaced.

Following reports of incorrect labeling in the meat industry, the Minister issued Government Notice No. 36285 for trade description application to processed and packaged meat products and dried and packaged meat products. The trade description included: the number, quantity, measure, weight or gauge of the goods; the name of the producer of the goods; the ingredients of which the goods consist, or material of which the goods are made; and the mode of manufacturing or production of goods. In addition to the notice, the Minister evoked his power in terms of section 86(b) of the CPA to direct the National Consumer Commission NCC to investigate the allegations of incorrect labeling of meat products. The NCC would indicate when the investigation would be complete and report the finding to the Minister.
What was necessary for effective oversight was agreement between role players, streamlining of roles and functions, analysis and alignment of resources (funds, expertise, laboratory support, etc) related to monitoring activities; strengthening of enforcement capacity; a risk-based approach in prioritization of activities and monitoring thereof; and the possibility of establishing a Food Agency. Non-compliance with correct labeling of meat products held a penalty of R1million or up to 10% of the offending firm's annual turnover in the preceding financial year - whichever was greater. DTI encouraged consumers to lay complaints so that the NCC and Minister could institute investigations and hold offenders of the law accountable.

Department of Health presentation
Ms Mandisa Hela, Chief Director: Department of Health explained that Municipal Health Services (MHS) had been devolved from provinces to district and metro municipalities and that this devolution to local government was guided by the municipality showing capacity to deliver environmental health services, in line with the Municipal Systems Act and including consumer protection by the following practices: food inspections at point of production, storage, distribution and consumption (the whole value chain); regulation of food premises (formal & informal); control of good premises by issuing compliance certificates to food premises promulgated in terms of the FCD Act; and ensure that food is safe and healthy for human consumption by enforcement of relevant legislation. MHS would take random samples and test them at the National Laboratory Health Services or in-house testing (by some metros) for microbiological analysis and chemical analysis and to inspect labeling.

The DoH and DAFF had held a number of collaborative meetings to track where legitimately imported horse meat ended in the food chain. Gauteng municipalities and metros were also involved. Samples had been sent for laboratory testing. Work was also underway with the NCC to respond to their request to develop a profile of the industry and ascertain capacity to sample and test samples. 

Challenges were that not all provinces had finished devolution of MHS; the budget was not easily identifiable as a budget line item from the equitable share of the municipalities; budget bid for the delivery of MHS had been prepared post devolution and there were no guidelines for the devolution of those services; prioritization of activities was not easy to monitor; the whole function of food control was fragmented with a multiplicity of players resulting in overlaps and gaps. Coordination and efficient use of resources had become challenging. Cost-risk and health benefit analysis would be considered, as the technology necessary for sampling and enforcement of compliance was expensive. The priority was the consumer. Establishment of a Food Agency was being considered.

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries presentation: Focus on Meat inspection, application of carcass marks (labeling) and inspection of imported meat
Dr Botlhe Michael Modisane, Deputy-Director General:  Animal Production and Health; DAFF said that he wished to stress that all the tested meat samples were edible. The controversial issue was that there was not a registered abattoir for slaughtering of donkeys which are classified as equine and could thus legally be slaughtered in equine slaughtering facilities. The concern was the safety of product found in sausage and mince. Dr Modisane agreed with DoH and DTI that the issue raised by the two universities was an issue of incorrect labeling and that the general public had the right to be informed on what they were eating.

The Meat Safety Act requirements were that the abattoir owner must “procure meat inspection services” (section 11(1)(b) and that meat inspection function must be performed independently of the abattoir (section 11(1)(c), and that meat inspection may only be performed by: national executive officer of DAFF, provincial department executive officer; assignee – established in terms of section 4 of the Act; authorized person – as contemplated in the Act. A person performing meat inspection would be registered in terms of the Act and such registered inspector may be: meat inspector (environmental health practitioners), meat examiner, veterinarian, person with relevant bioscientific qualification. Inspections would be carried out on live animals presented for slaughter at the abattoir and would include evaluation of the animals' health records and visual inspection of the animals’ larynges. Regulated meat included that of red meat parts of a carcass sold for human consumption – bovine, sheep and goat; poultry – fowl, duck, muscovy and turkey.

A prospective importer must apply and obtain an import permit issued by DAFF and also provide Veterinary Authorities of the origin country with an import permit issued by South African Authorities, declaring that all requirements and conditions imposed by South Africa had been met. At the Port of entry, DAFF veterinarians detained all consignments at approved inspection sites and evaluated the permit issued by DAFF and the veterinarian certificate issued by the country of origin, as well as compliance and verification inspection. Once released to the importer, the consignment assumes status of 'domestic food' and is regulated by statues governing all local food. DAFF did not have meat inspectors at facilities which handled/processed imported meat. However, imported processed meat products were required by law that the raw meat used in such products shall be sourced within the country of origin and certified by the veterinary authorities of that country.

Three abattoirs are registered for slaughter of horse meat for domestic consumption (1 in Gauteng and 2 in Free State). In 2012, 150 tons of horse meat was imported under a valid veterinarian import permit from Brazil. Other equines such as zebra, donkey and mule were processed in other abattoirs across the country – all these species were permitted in terms of schedule 1 of the Meat Safety Act. Zebra meat was legally slaughtered in South Africa and mainly exported to Europe. However, endangered zebra species found in a meat sample was of concern.

The DTI was of the view that with the exception of few, the species mentioned in the study were: species regularly sold and consumed in RSA; they were slaughtered in registered abattoirs or imported; unintended cross-contamination yielded positive DNA of meat which is processed in the same premises; and positive DNA was not confirmation that labeling was deliberately incorrect. It was hoped that the NCC would provide clarity and be able to separate ‘unintended accidental contamination’ from ‘deliberate cheating’. There were complexities in regulation of food, labeling, marketing and potential deception of consumers, and also complex aspects to monitoring and certification of traditional and religious practices. It would be necessary to accommodate the balance between the extent to which religious practices could operate privately and independently of government requirements and public safety. Finalization of the Food Safety Policy and Food Safety Agency were of paramount importance.

The Chairperson suggested that solutions be the focus of the discussion. It appeared that wrongs were being corrected and the big question was whether full use was being made of the research institutions in the country.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked if South Africa had responded to meat safety and security after the European finding, or if research was conducted by the University on its own accord.

Dr Modisane replied that the research in South Africa had already been conducted but that the horse meat scandal in Europe prompted the department to find out what the issues were in Europe. The finding was the same for both countries - labeling was the issue, not food safety.

Mr Cebekhulu asked if there was a demand for kangaroo meat from Australia.

Dr Modisane replied that DAFF may be taken on by law should there not be sufficient reason to block trade with Australia.

Mr B Bhanga (COPE) said that during the presentations there appeared to be an element of justifying the presence of water buffalo, etc, in the meat. However, as a legislator, labeling should be correct and the point at which there is irregularity needed to be identified. The fact was that the Meat and Safety Act had not been implemented by DTI in the 13 years that the legislation was in place and some of the loopholes were identified by the research.

Dr Modisane replied that DAFF was not condoning incorrect labeling and that indeed consumers had the right to be aware of what they were eating. There was a need to plug the hole in the labeling problem.

Ms Hela added that consumer education on labeling was being addressed.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said that it was important that the multi-cultural practices and requirements needed to be respected.

Dr Modisane said that particularly since the Orion case had surfaced, the Meat Safety Act had become uncovered and from a self-regulatory and cultural slaughter point of view, DAFF needed to ensure that slaughter practices were safe in that regard. While it did not intend taking over control of the cultural practice applied, it could not condone unnecessary cruelty to animals.

Ms E Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) commented that there were cultural preferences and people should eat what they liked to eat and have choice by reading correct labels. The poorest of the poor were most at risk as they ate whatever food was cheap.

The Chairperson added that the South African consumer was not an activist type of consumer…”It is ok, you can give me that”. The consumer was not aware of their right.

Mr Potwana agreed that although the CPA was an overarching piece of legislation, it could not do investigations unless consumers laid their complaints.

Mr Hoffman said that the slaughtering practices in informal settings were not so much a concern as this involving slaughtering and consumption of fresh meat. Also, larger supermarkets were self-regulating and complied. The concern was processing facilities. Selling of cheap meat was a red flag for “funny business”. Authorities were trying to find solutions but funding of water safety was prioritized over food safety. He suggested that more health officials were trained at the technology institutions and that DTI possibly offer bursaries for such training. Since the donkey scandal, butcheries have become more closed to offer practical training for students, for what appears to be out of fear of being “found out”.

Mr P Van Dalen (DA) asked if the genetic database included DNA for all species such as dog, rhino and hippo.

Ms D’Amato replied that the database of information was growing by the day. For some groups of species, there some was more scarce information than others. In 2009/10 during the study, there was little information on horse-like species and genes and cape mountain zebra and assistance was requested from the Zoological Gardens for some parts of the study, was not possible to distinguish between zebra and donkey. Some species fell within groups of other individual species. More information was required for verification and consistency. There was certainly DNA information on the database for rhino and other endangered species of South Africa.

Mr Abram added that there was an impression that the various departments were not talking to one another. The agricultural sector had the responsibility to ensure that the food was secure. Another department had to see to it that the products produced were according to the laws, and the DoH had to see to it that the food was safe for human consumption. RMIF had complained about the lack of inspection of abattoirs, the scandal about meat which landed in South Africa without proper labeling, and researchers had created a climate of urgency. However, by now there should be a clear picture of what was happening.

Mr Bhanga said that the question now was whether there was finance for research but expensive testing could not be the reason not to implement the Act. Clear turnaround strategies were required within three months and action, rather than ideas, was urgently required. In poor areas, it was clear that some meat was not edible.

Mr Van Dalen requested that the Committee receive an integrated comprehensive report from the departments, together with recommendations on how to fix the problems and suggested that the Committee resolve that the budget must allow for implementation of the Act.

Dr Modisane said that department officials were committed to working together with researchers in the industry to develop a strategy to address the issues. This would be done in the following three to five months.

Ms Hela added that it was clear that DoH had to engage with municipalities on the matters of concern.

Mr Abram commented that an unintended consequence of a law was that at times it cost money to implement the law. The law provided for implementation of meat inspection and the budget required should be motivated for long before the budget is presented in Parliament. A coordinated plan between departments was required - plans on how to implement the laws and regulations, who took responsibility for what, which municipalities and their health departments were dysfunctional, etc so that the health of society was not at stake. It was not a case of reinventing the wheel, but of implementation. The laws and CPA were in place but at the end of the day, delivery to the consumer was required. The house would agree that when looking at the state of local government, the law was not implementable. The law itself did not implement law.

The Chairperson added that serious research capacity at universities was scattered and therefore their impact in this regard was minimized.

Ms Hela said that DoH would engage with the universities to determine how to refine the instruments which could be used to address the challenges.

Ms Steyn said that there was non-compliance on food safety and no inspections on expiry dates in small towns. It was a waste of taxpayers’ money to have an Act which was not implemented.

Mr Potwana said that DTI guaranteed the consumer’s rights to safe and quality goods. The NCC could issue a warning to those in breach of compliance - that they will be issued an administrative fine - and could recall goods that had expired. The enforcement agencies relied on consumer complaints before they acted and as mentioned earlier, consumers needed to be educated and make their complaint. NCA provided for action against offenders.

Mr Hoffman added that there was misconception on sell-by and expiry dates. This was a self-induced date imposed by the supermarket after the producer of the goods tested it for microbial contamination to determine shelf life. It varied from product to product and was an indication of safety but was not a hard and fast rule. One cannot prosecute someone for having food on the shelf which was past its sell-by date. Microbial readings for the same product could also differ, depending on what the product was exposed to.

Ms B Ngcobo (Health Portfolio Committee, ANC) asked why SU was approached by the DoH without funding and whether the research teams within the DoH (MRC) and DTI (CSIR) had a role to play in assisting with research. Parliament could not approve a budget for research until the department had approached the committee with how much was required and how much had been spent and on what. Treasury existed to assist as much as possible. But if the budget was not used effectively for intended purposes, it would be difficult for parliament to do anything, including assisting municipalities.

The Chairperson added that regulations were literally implemented away from parliament instead of coming back to parliament. This was a major flaw in the system. The two challenges for implementation of legislation were: in the DoH -  the health inspector and in DAFF - the extension service officer.

Ms Hela agreed that delivery of regulations had not been implemented adequately after one year and this would be addressed.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) asked if the ports of entry were properly monitored. Sheep from New Zealand was fatty and was sent to small towns. The poorest of the poor suffered when South Africa was used as a dumping ground. Money would be better spent on correcting the problem through research, skills and implementation of the laws than on the increased problem of young people who now had high blood pressure. The consumer’s diet was not being protected.

Mr Van Dalen asked for assurance that food imported to South Africa was inspected and verified as safe and secure.

Ms Steyn asked for clarity on the inspection procedure for meat entering the country and whether those goods could be traced according to destination and use of the meat. She asked if the water buffalo was legally imported and if it could be traced.

Dr Modisane replied that all imported food was inspected. Containers were opened and microbiological samples were taken for testing in conjunction with DoH. Requirements such as prohibition of irradiated food were also considered.

Ms Steyn asked the DoH how tests for verification of ‘undeclared meat species’ could be conducted when the databases were not complete. She also asked for clarity on the quantity of massive amounts of undeclared species found versus traces of species found, as traces appeared to be a contamination factor that could be corrected.

Dr Modisane said that colleagues would better respond to the question on traces. However, while it was possible to find traces of human DNA in the meat samples because human beings handled the meat, it did not mean that human flesh was found in the meat. Brining was not monitored adequately and has caused a public outcry and the concern would be followed up and reported to the Committee. It has been suggested that the salt effects contributed to the high blood pressure issue in South Africa.

Ms D’Amato replied that finding presence of four animal species in sausage mixtures was not considered a trace or contamination but substitution. The product was a mixture of different sources of meat.

Dr Boitshoko Ntsabele, Director: Food Safety & Quality Assurance, DAFF added that a report on a study commissioned to determine the situation with regard to regulation of levels of brining would be shared with the Committee. Most importantly, brining was supposed to add flavor to chicken, but needed to be limited to a certain level.

Ms Steyn asked what the DoH’s plan was to penalize those who were found by the research studies to have transgressed the law on labeling.

Dr Modisane replied that non-compliance was penalized as presented by DTI.

Ms A Steyn (DA) asked why the DoH had not answered her question asked in January 2013 on how many inspections had been carried out on meat services and where sampling had been conducted.

Ms Hela said that the number and place of inspections would be reported back to the Committee.

Ms Steyn suggested looking at the cost factor of importing meat versus locally-produced good quality food.

Mr Hoffman replied that this was a fundamental question and appeared to be driven by cost. Imported kangaroo meat was cheap and could be added to vienna sausages or polony and sold at a huge profit. Chickens were injected because water was cheap. Perhaps the answer would be to revisit the importation regulations and import duties that allow these products to be brought into the country. What can the RMIF do when someone imported a product and then turned around and said that they were not a member of the RMIF which was trying to regulate it?

Mr Van Dalen asked how many inspectors there were at abattoirs and if they were policed for compliance.

Ms N Twala (ANC) asked the department how many inspectors would be employed and the time frame for finding inspectors.

The Chairperson said that no feedback had been given on the questions on registration and inspection of abattoirs asked by the Committee in Oct/Nov 2012.

A DAFF official replied that as of Sept 2011, DAFF had indicated that over 84 meat inspectors had been employed nationally and provincially by government and 21 worked specifically in abattoir control. They did not reside full time at the abattoirs but visited on a regular basis. Over and above that, day to day meat inspection was currently being conducted by the private sector. Recommendations and final report on the registration and inspection of abattoirs would be concluded very soon and shared with the Committee.

Prof Pieter Gouws, Head of Department: Biotechnology, UWC, added that it was important to realize that there was a great deal of genetic variability and differentiation of species in Southern Africa. The database was incomplete and more information was necessary. The tests cost enormous amount of money and the purpose of one of their study was to develop cheap tools to identify species-specific meat samples. D’Amato said that nanotechnology could be used to develop a link to a kit whereby a meat sample can be tested on a strip such as a pregnancy strip. It cost money to develop. There was collaboration with SU and UWC would like to expand the relationship with SU to join departments to pave a way forward and implement action.

There needed to be a differentiation between food safety and mislabeling.  The meat product was safe, the labeling was incorrect. It was important to qualify the minimum quantity of DNA contamination that can be detected - what the levels of foreign DNA were. The contaminant DNA level is very low.

As Prof Hoffman said, we know that meat comes into the country and it should be able to be traced within the country and then targeted to test whether there are mislabeling issues.

UWC engaged with communities and would like to train people to specifically use the pool of DNA information to find new technologies and work together with government to find solutions to the loopholes.

Dave Ford, Chairman: Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) said that in 2011, RMIF had been granted an interdict to stop illegal relabeling of imported products. The matter was reported to the Hawks, but yet, to date, nothing had happened.  All the proof was available, yet the importer continued to trade. The problem was that if cowboys could see that someone’s transgressions went unchecked, more cowboys would emerge. Within the Health Act, the Minister can appoint structures to apply the Health Act. This aspect had been delegated to the local authorities, with 84% of municipalities defunct. There was no need for more legislation. RMIF would like to propose that an inter-ministerial committee be appointed and that a compliance component be within that committee. The findings of the studies by the universities was a second red light. RMIF had brought up the first red light with the Orion case.

The Chairperson said that the point was that various cases had been reported and that no action had been taken. This was a serious indictment on the part of the house and the departments. He was tempted to allow the departments to respond. For corrupt businesses, it was “business as usual”.

A DAFF official said that while the Members gave DAFF powers, in this case the courts had to decide on the issues. The courts had pronounced on some of the matters and other matters relating to suspected illegal activity was reported to the Hawks was being handled by the appropriate statutory body.  In terms of the Health Act and Meat Safety Act, the facility was legally registered and its activity was being audited. There were no illegal activities currently occurring. The owner of Orion felt that the RMIF had a grudge against him as he had fired a business partner who had reported the mislabeling. DAFF could not harass the owner.

The Chairperson said that it would not be harassment, but an appeal in court, in relation to justice with regard to safety of our food.

The Committee agreed that departments would need to return to the committee in three months with a clear plan on how collaboration would work going forward – whether it was on labeling, safety, research, food control, traceability, brining, registration of abattoirs and related matters.  At the end of the day, the main issues were labeling but fundamentally it talked to safety of food, the key by-product of that being education of consumers. Cabinet had taken a view on the matter that DTI would oversee consumer protection and this was not far from what the current meeting was about. We must protect local produce. Importing foreign foods as DTI suggestions of subsidies and tariffs could be measures which would allow South Africa to protect locally produced products and vulnerable agriculture labour.

Ms Steyn commented that the DTI would need to be responsible for tracing of imported meat as the market was price and consumer-driven. The plan should include exactly who would be responsible and what was in place for tracking of imported meat.

Mr Abrams said that the cost of training people with adequate skills should be included. He suggested that the departments’ plan should be submitted before recess in June. 

Mr Ford added that 35 000 tons of beef product was imported annually. South Africa could not supply the demand for this low grade product. Product would continue to be imported. About 6 500 tons were imported came from Namibia and beef was also brought in from Botswana.

The Chairperson challenged Mr Ford, saying that the majority of beef supplied by South Africa was in the hands of communal livestock farms. He asked what was being done to increase this production in this regard before adjourning the meeting.

Meeting adjourned.

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