Meat Safety Bill: briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


This Report is a Contact Natural Resource Information Service
Taking Parliament to People, and People to Parliament


29 August 2000


Documents handed out:
1. Meat Safety Bill, Bill 29 of 2000: Explanatory Memorandum
2. Advantages of the Meat Safety Bill, 2000 to Previously Disadvantaged Communities
Meat Safety Bill


Three representatives from the Department of Agriculture presented a review of the proposed Meat Safety Bill to the Select Committee. The Department discussed the limitations of current legislation and how the new Bill will uphold a higher quality of meat production. Dr Cornelius emphasized the proposed bill's focus on structures used in slaughter, such as abattoirs, and increasing consumer confidence in the safety and hygiene of meat consumption. The Meat Safety Bill includes changes to specific definitions used in current legislation, minimum standards for meat slaughter within abattoirs, the appointment of assignees to regulate meat produced in abattoirs, clauses for import/export control and essential national standards, as well the introduction of schemes which would focus on increasing public awareness regarding meat safety. After a general presentation on the main points of the Bill, the Department accepted questions from the committee and reviewed the Bill clause by clause.

Presentation by Dr Bruckner
Dr Bruckner opened by emphasising the constitutional obligation of the government to provide accessible and safe meat to all aspects of the population. The Department acknowledges the limitations encumbering current legislation and seeks to amend them with the proposed Bill. For example, the existing Abattoir Hygiene Act ignores the diversity of economical needs by restricting those areas permitted for slaughter to limited and expensive designations. This resulted in a "disparity between meat safety standards for urban and more affluent areas with expensive abattoirs, and rural and poorer communities where such facilities do not exist" ("Advantages to the Meat Safety Bill, 2000 To Previously Disadvantaged Communities"). The current Act also relies on a process of inspection for the approval of meat products, which is usually done by employees of the slaughterhouse who are under pressure to label the meat suitable for human consumption. The proposed Bill includes an auditing and monitoring function, which will regulate the process of meat production from "farm-to-fork", through the appointment of agencies and assignees accountable to the government. Hygiene assessment, already included in current legislation, will be legalised and actively enforced through the new Bill. There is also much emphasis on the importance of increasing consumer awareness regarding food safety, through specified training and capacity building programmes. The Department made clear their desire to develop a more holistic system of management in regards to meat production, as opposed to one based on mere inspection of an end product.

Further, although the export of meat out of the country may be refused if standards are not met, the existing Act does not account for any certification or authorisation required by the country regarding imported meat products. Through the proposed Bill, an "import certification" based on the standards of the importing country will be required before meat is allowed into South Africa. Finally, because of poorly defined wordings in the Abattoir Hygiene Act, (e.g. "meat"), importers have been able to bring diseased or unhealthy meat into the country. The committee was referred to the list of new definitions presented as Clause 1 of the new Bill.

Overview by Senior Legal Officer, Ms van Zyl
Ms Ronel van Zyl emphasised the need for a more holistic approach to meat production. She referred to obligations within Schedules 4 and 5 of the Constitution, which refer to consumer protection and the functioning of abattoirs regarding meat safety legislation. One of the proposed Bill's primary objectives is to encourage the informal sector to increase their demand for safe meat by promoting awareness of health issues and management practices. In this vein, the Bill introduces the concept of "schemes". These are targeted at specific objectives such as "the enhancement of meat safety practices and meat safety awareness", "training in aspects of meat safety and the safety of animal products", and "investigations into food borne diseases" (Meat Safety Bill: Explanatory Memorandum). Because of the shortage of persons specifically trained in meat safety inspection, and in order to lower governmental costs of these schemes, it was also mentioned that the Department hopes to incorporate the support of local NGOs and public servants as assignees who would monitor and standardise the practice of meat production.

Along with increasing consumer awareness of meat safety, the new Bill proposes to create more entrepreneurial opportunities for the informal sector. By lowering the cost necessary to construct and maintain an abattoir, the Department hopes to address the shortage of proper slaughtering facilities in rural areas.

New definitions, such as "fresh meat", will clarify when meat is unsafe for consumption. The new Bill also deals with animal consumption of meat products, in light of the possibility that disease may be transmitted over species (eg. Mad cow disease). The Department also includes Clause 7: "Prohibition of Slaughter of Animals at Places Other than Abattoirs, and Exemptions", which addresses exemptions to the Bill for slaughter regarding religious and cultural needs.

Mr Kgware (Northern Cape) expressed concern that the new Bill insufficiently addresses the amount of informal slaughtering performed. He said this type of "bush-slaughtering" actually feeds many people and occurs regularly throughout the country. He inquired as to how the new Bill envisions the regulation of informal slaughtering and how the appointing of NGOs as assignees will effect the functioning of these entrepreneurs.

Mr MacKenzie (Kwazulu-Natal) had three concerns to address. First, he brought attention to the fact that across South Africa there is butchery, not aligned to culture, where people sell slaughter from the roadside. This has resulted in an entire cycle of economics in poor areas where meat is much cheaper and a means of economic survival. Families who depend on this service will not be able to afford meat processed through an abattoir as required by the new Bill. He requested comment by the Department. Second, Mr MacKenzie also observed that on many farms it is common for the slaughter to be rationed between workers for services rendered instead of receiving wages. He asked for comment on how the new Bill would address this type of slaughter. Lastly, he expressed concern that the Meat Safety Bill, while attractive on a theoretical level, will ultimately be impractical to enforce and costly to the state.

Reverend M Chabaku (Free State) mentioned that even in the cities there occurs roadside slaughter. She asked for clarification regarding what will be included under the definition of "meat".

The Department referred to Section 7 of the Act, which includes exemptions regarding ritual slaughtering. Section 2A, inserted by the Committee, states that "Subsection (1) does not apply to slaughter for own consumption or for cultural or religious purposes". The Senior Legal Officer of the Department also stated that current legislation already provides a clause for meat inspection, but that this often occurs within the abattoir and under the eyes of the employer. By appointing inspectors not employed by the abattoir, the bill will ensure better quality of meat. Dr Bruckner acknowledged that an increase in meat cost is possible but that the government must strike a balance between cost and meat safety. The cost of appointing inspectors outweighs the cost to the general population regarding their health and the danger of disease from contaminated meat. Dr Bruckner referred to a project conducted by the Department in Kwazulu-Natal, which targeted hygiene awareness and monitored test abattoirs in that area. Dr Cornelius stated that the goal of the schemes is to create awareness and that once these standards are accepted; there will be increased pressure from the consumers for safer meat products. He referred to "capacity building", a process of training people to perform inspection services. Education and capacity building initiatives will theoretically spark a process of upgrading consumer expectations until safer meat production becomes the norm.

Mr Van Niekerk expressed concern that the proposed Bill will be difficult to implement. He inquired as to if there are any precautions included which would address the transportation of meat, such a permits stipulating quantities allowable for transport.

Ms Ndzanga (ANC) asked if farmers would be expected to apply for exemption from the clause that restricts meat from being slaughtered outside of registered abattoirs. She asked how one measures whether slaughter from farms is healthy, and if cows may be checked prior to slaughter for any potential diseases that would affect the quality of meat.

Ms Thompson (Kwazulu-Natal) pointed out that certain cultural groups prefer to see the animal being slaughtered and do not like meat from abattoirs. She also asked if the Bill would apply to animal feed and if this feed is monitored during the inspection process.

Mr M L Mokoena (Northern Province) asked how the proposed Bill will monitor hunted meat, and how monitoring operations will be maintained over time. He also called attention to the fact that there seems to exist a notion that bush-slaughter only happens in rural areas. Mr Mokoena observed that now African people are moving into the suburbs and we must adjust our legislation to include rituals performed in these areas as well.

The Department acknowledged the unlikelihood that the proposed Meat Safety Act become effective immediately because of the wide range of its application. It is hoped that its application will be expanded over time. They reiterated their commitment to ensure the safety and health of consumers, but stipulated that the enforcement of this Bill will fall into the hands of particular assignees, inspectors, and trainees. It was noted that any legislation requires voluntary compliance, and that the government cannot police every movement made by bush-slaughterers. The Department re-emphasized the necessity of community involvement and public education to uphold the standards set by the proposed Bill.

The focus of the current legislation is directed towards the functioning of abattoirs and does not legislate in regards to meat transport. The proposed bill will develop a permit system in accordance to grading and will allow the consumer to be refurbished by the seller if the meat purchased is of low quality.

More Questions
At this point Mrs. Vilakazi stated concern regarding the bill's application outside of registered abattoirs. She predicted that the Bill will eventually prove to be a "white elephant", possible in theory but impossible to implement, and asked what will be enforced regarding slaughtered meat used for funerals, weddings, etc.

Mr Mackenzie pointed out that in the KwaZulu Natal province, there is a policy for exporting game, which falls under "buyer beware". He questioned the Department as to whether there has been a survey collected from the rural people on what they think of the proposed bill and the construction of abattoirs.

More Answers
The Department stated again that onus for implementation will come from the provinces. Municipalities may appoint competent and authorized persons to monitor the functioning of registered abattoirs. Further, the new bill will make it easier for entrepreneurs previously dependent on bush slaughtering to establish legal businesses. The department expressed sensitivity to the economic effect that mandatory slaughter within abattoirs will create, but highlighted their stand that because people are poor does not mean we can compromise on their health. In trying to make safer meat more affordable, this bill will require only basic structures for abattoirs, which will lower the cost of their establishment. At this point Dr Bruckner mentioned that abattoirs would not be permitted to slaughter dead or diseased animals. He also referred the committee to a survey done countrywide which addressed availability and hygiene issues that will be made available to the public.

Clause-by-Clause Review
Reverend Chabaku (Free State) had a concern about which cultural groups will be represented in the definition of "veterinarians". She also had a question regarding the confidentiality clause and in what circumstance information will be kept confidential.

Mr Van Niekerk asked for a definition of "in the public interest" and was concerned about the reference to "business and affairs" in Clause 17. He asserted that if the clause is in relation to business and affairs then it should not be included in a document, which deals with public safety and health issues. He suggested rephrasing the clause to make it clear that it refers to health issues not economic issues. He also sought clarification as to what the purpose of Clause 17 is.

The Department answered by stating that it becomes problematic to define certain phrases concretely. Ms Van Zyl commented that the government will be guided by circumstance and will be focusing on health and disease related aspects. Clause 17 will prevent public servants from disclosing information they encounter during the inspection process. This provides confidentiality to the abattoir and accounts for "possible circumstances of disclosure".

Schedule of Events
12 September: Select Committee Negotiated Mandate due
19 September: Final Mandate due
3 October: Plenary due

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