Poultry Industry challenges; Fall Armyworm, Listeriosis and Fruit fly outbreaks update; with Minister

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

27 February 2018
Chairperson: Ms M Semenya (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Interdepartmental Task Team consisting of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) - established to respond to the poultry industry crisis - briefed the Committee on progress in tackling the poultry industry challenges in the presence of the Minister of Agriculture.

The task team was formed after the AGOA negotiations mainly to address concerns from the poultry industry. The chairmanship of the task team is with the Department of Trade and Industry (dti). The task team met from January 2017 up to October 2017. The decisions were also captured in a form of action lists with assignment of responsibilities to team members. The major exporters of chicken in the world included both United States of America (USA) and Brazil while major importers included Africa, Asia, Russia, European Union (EU) and Middle East. In terms of packaging and maintenance of quality, there is a requirement that the products must be fully packaged and there is enforcement under the Agricultural Products Standards Act and brining certification is also required. The Imported products cannot be treated differently from local produced poultry meat products. How the poultry products are shipped into the country, in bulk or already packaged cannot be restricted in as much as there are factories that produce and package their product locally.

There is enforcement of grading regulations under the Agricultural Products Act (APA) and this is to increase intensity under the APA and increase capacity at inspection points. The Agency for Food Safety, an Assignee, is implementing the regulations as of June 2017. In terms of development of a system for the certification of brining level, procedures to conduct assessment of the exporting country systems are being developed. There is a need to develop clearance procedures that achieve appropriate brining levels. Improved disease management is critical for sustainable development of the poultry industry. DAFF is currently developing a comprehensive microbiological programme (imported and locally-produced meat). A successful implementation of any procedure manual, be it the existing one or a revised one, requires additional funding for creation and filling of inspection posts at ports of entry. The manual also requires officers to move to cold stores and processing plants throughout the day to monitor products and collect samples. There is a need to address current challenges should have a measured approach, taking into consideration the growth of the sector in totality. The application of any measure relating to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has to be within the confines and provisions of the WTO.

The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) provided an update on the dti related work streams from the Poultry Task Team. In relation to the review of the European Union (EU) safeguard, the ITAC investigation of the safeguard was completed in September 2017 with the recommendation to raise the matter at the Trade and Development Committee. This is in progress and an update is awaited. On the issue of the review of technical tariff structure, there are engagements on the technical tariff structure with South African Revenue Service (SARS) and Industry had been held. A final decision is awaited. On the lowering of inputs costs, The NCPC had already assisted 4 poultry farms with water and energy efficiency solutions. Further engagements between SAPA and NCPC were held to detail the roll out of the assistance that can be provided. There was research undertaken into the viability of investment in MDM plants to raise capabilities in key sub-sectors is being undertaken and this was part of the long-term plan of the Department. The Agro-processing sector desk is working with Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA) on developing a strategy. Poultry producers have been invited to participate in TISA led missions. The Association for Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) are also actively looking into way of assisting the sector with export opportunities. In regard to the issue of industrial finance and incentives, the dti launched the Billion Rand Agro-processing incentive which poultry producers can benefit from.

Members expressed concern about deadlines not being met as this was supposed to be the priority of the Department to ensure that these projects are up and running. In terms of the lowering of inputs costs, it was stated that the Department had assisted 4 poultry farms. The Committee should be provided with an update as to when these farms were assisted and the impact of the assistance provided. The poultry farmers are currently struggling to breakeven because of the extremely high cost of running the business and electricity cost was extremely high. It would be important to be provided with an update on the R1 billion Rand Agro-processing incentive scheme. There should be timelines in place so that we do not do things forever. Where are these poultry farms located geographically as this was critical important for the purposes of conducting oversight? In regard to consumer demand, it was commendable to see that the Department was encouraging consumers to play locally produced goods. However, it was unclear if there are any enforcement measures that are being implemented to ensure success of this.

Some Members felt that on the issue of poultry farms that are about to close down or those that had already closed down, the Committee was clear that government should take a conscious decision to buy those farms in order to save jobs. The Committee got an understanding that government was going to look into that. The issue of labeling and packaging was critical important and this needed to be prioritised as we cannot please everyone in the regard. As South Africans we always want to please everyone and this is sometimes done at the expense of our people. A revised procedure manual was drafted and distributed to stakeholders for inputs, the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) had challenged the Department on its implementation. What was the nature of this challenge? Was this a court challenge? Did this mean that DAAF cannot proceed and implementing on the SOP for microbial monitoring? It is important to hear from DAAF on whether the review of the Agricultural Product Standard Act to deal with concerns that had been flagged by Members on labelling and packaging of imported goods entering our market. It seemed like that there was no reference to small producers especially in production and not marketing. There was a general lack of assistance that is provided to Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and cooperatives. There should be a timeline on the rollout plan for the assistance of 4 poultry farms. The presentations that had been made but both presentation lacked information on how many jobs that had been saved and the strategy in place to save further jobs

There was also an update on the Fall Armyworm (FAW), Listeriosis and Fruit fly outbreaks. It was highlighted that FAW is a quarantine pest for South Africa, with an internationally documented wide host rage. It is a notifiable pest in South Africa and regulated in terms of the Agricultural Pests Act, 1983 and other relevant regulations. The presence of FAW in South Africa was confirmed on 3 February 2017 with positive morphological and molecular identification of caterpillars and adult moths. The presence of the pest was announced on the International Plant Protection Convention’s portal in terms of South Africa’s international pest reporting obligations. The infestation level is less than the previous year (2017), since most of the farmers are using or spraying registered agrochemicals. There were no more chemicals that were registered during 2017 to manage and control FAW and therefore there are more options to control the pest. The situation is currently under control and the Department has allocated a budget to deal with any likelihood of a further outbreaks. In relation to listeriosis outbreak, there were 872 laboratory-confirmed cases across all provinces in the country. Most cases have been reported from Gauteng and KZN. Cases have been diagnosed in both public and private healthcare sectors. Females account for 53% of cases where gender is reported. There was also a detection of the outbreak of Fruit fly in around the country especially in Grabouw in Western Cape. On 31 January 2018 one male specimen was detected in Grabouw and reported to the Department.

Members indicated that it was important for Members to be provided with an update on the FAW as we always get questions from farmers. It was also unclear if Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are immune or resistant to the FAW? If GMOs are resistant to FAW then perhaps the Department should consider using GMOs to improve on food security. What is the potential possibility that the worm was moving to other crops in the country. It seemed like there is no funding in place in order to be able to prevent the possible spread of this worm. How are we going to conduct research in this regard? They expressed concern about this confidentiality clause by certain laboratories conducting testing for listeriosis considering that this disease had the potential to be a natural disaster. What is the way forward in this regard? What could be done legally to pursue the laboratories to publish information on sampling results on listeriosis? There was an indication of the introduction of national food control authority to deal with the scandal that erupted on the donkey meat. Some Members wanted to know if the measures that had been put in place to control the listeriosis were sufficient. There is a possibility that we would not manage some of the diseases due to climate change but the only thing we can deal with is to put measures in place to manage these diseases. There is lack of public education on the scourge of this diseases and hygienic ways to prevent the spread of listeriosis.
 

Meeting report

Briefing by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)
Dr Mpho Maja, Director: Animal Health, DAFF, stated that the task team was formed after the AGOA negotiations mainly to address concerns from the poultry industry. The chairmanship of the task team is with the Department of Trade and Industry (dti). The task team met from January 2017 up to October 2017. The decisions were also captured in a form of action lists with assignment of responsibilities to team members. The major exporters of chicken in the world included both the United States of America (USA) and Brazil while major importers included Africa, Asia, Russia, European Union (EU) and Middle East. In terms of packaging and maintenance of quality, there is a requirement that the products must be fullypackaged and there is enforcement under the Agricultural Products Standards Act and brining certification is also required. Upon proper evaluation and analysis of the current regulations, it was established that it would not be possible to change the quality standards due to the following reasons:

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, technical regulations and standards including packaging, marking and labelling requirements, and procedures for assessing of conformity with technical regulations and standards shall not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade. Imported products cannot be treated differently from local produced poultry meat products. How the poultry products are shipped into the country, in bulk or already packaged cannot be restricted in as much as there are factories that produce and package their product locally. In other words, the true test is whether the product when finally sold to the public complies with packaging and labelling standards regardless of whether it is imported or not. It is not within the remit of the Agricultural Product Standards Act 119 of 1990 to regulate how regulated products should be shipped but rather how the product should be presented when sold. In the final analysis, products sold in the Republic of South Africa would, ultimately, have to comply with the published poultry meat regulations. Work continues with the Department of Health (DoH) to address meat safety matters.

Dr Maja indicated that there is enforcement of grading regulations under the Agricultural Products Act (APA) and this is to increase intensity under the APA and increase capacity at inspection points. The Agency for Food Safety, an Assignee, is implementing the regulations as of June 2017. In terms of development of a system for the certification of brining level, procedures to conduct assessment of the exporting country systems are being developed. There is a need to develop clearance procedures that achieve appropriate brining levels.Improved disease management is critical for sustainable development of the poultry industry. Effective disease control is captured in Operation Phakisa, Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP), Revitalisation of the Agricultural Value Chain (RAAVC) and the Veterinary Strategy. This includes pre-border, border and post border interventions in disease control.

DAFF has amended its approach to authorising imports of poultry from trading partners. DAFF is currently developing a comprehensive microbiological programme (imported and locally-produced meat). A successful implementation of any procedure manual, be it the existing one or a revised one, requires additional funding for creation and filling of inspection posts at ports of entry. The manual also requires officers to move to cold stores and processing plants throughout the day to monitor products and collect samples.

Dr Maja said that a National Chemical Residues Monitoring Programme was designed and implemented; however, the funding for the programme was inadequate to conduct full monitoring as desired. There are engagements with National Treasury to get the necessary additional funding for a full and statistically significant programme. In terms of matters to be considers in the implementation of SPS and TBT measures, Basic principles for implementation of Non Tariff measures in terms of the WTO including least trade-restrictiveness by putting measures that there should be no more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve the appropriate level of protection and the measures should be based on science and on an assessment of the risks involved. In conclusion, there is a need to address current challenges should have a measured approach, taking into consideration the growth of the sector in totality. The application of any measure relating to the WTO has to be within the confines and provisions of the WTO.

Briefing by the Department of Trade and Industry (dti)
Ms Ncumisa Mcatha-Mhlauli, Chief Director: Agro-Processing unit Industrial Development Division, dti, indicated that the Department would provide an update on the dti related work streams from the Poultry Task Team. In relation to the review of the European Union (EU) safeguard, the ITAC investigation of the safeguard was completed in September 2017 with the recommendation to raise the matter at the Trade and Development Committee. This is in progress and an update is awaited. On the issue of the review of technical tariff structure, there are engagements on the technical tariff structure with South African Revenue Service (SARS) and industry. A final decision is awaited. On the lowering of inputs costs, the National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) had already assisted 4 poultry farms with water and energy efficiency solutions. Further engagements between South African Poultry Association (SAPA) and NCPC were held to detail the roll out of the assistance that can be provided. There was research undertaken into the viability of investment in MDM plants to raise capabilities in key sub-sectors is being undertaken and this was part of the long-term plan of the Department. The dti sent out letters to procuring entities for use of regulation 8.4 (previously 9.3) of the PPPFA in support of buying locally produced poultry.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli mentioned that the Agro-processing sector desk is working with TISA on developing a strategy. Poultry producers have been invited to participate in TISA led missions. The Association for Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) are also actively looking into ways of assisting the sector with export opportunities. Concerning industrial finance and incentives, the dti launched the Billion Rand Agro-processing incentive which poultry producers can benefit from. This would be the responsibility of the Department, EDD and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

Discussion
The Chairperson welcomed the presentations that had been made but both presentation lacked information on how many jobs had been saved and the strategy in place to save further jobs.
Ms A Steyn (DA) expressed concern about deadlines not being met as this was supposed to be the priority of the Department to ensure that these projects are up and running. In terms of the lowering of inputs costs, it was stated that the dti had assisted 4 poultry farms. The Committee should be provided with an update as to when these farms were assisted and the impact of the assistance provided. The poultry farmers are currently struggling to break even because of the extremely high cost of running the business and electricity cost was extremely high. It would be important to be provided with an update on the R1 billion Rand Agro-processing incentive. How is the assistance going to be provided to farmers? The Committee undertook an oversight in eastern Free State on one of the farms that were bought by the Department and this is where we witnessed a number of challenges. The presentation indicated that there were only 4 poultry farms in EThekwini. It is surely impossible that the state only bought 4 poultry farms as there must be a lot of poultry farms that were bought by the Department before.

Ms Steyn requested that the Committee should be provided with a detailed report on poultry farms that had been assisted as it looked like the Committee is always provided with information on the new farmers that had been bought without doing introspection on those farmers that were previously assisted. What was the total number of poultry farms that had been assisted? In relation to the issue of residue, the Committee should be briefed on whether this was related to the R20 million that was announced in the budget. Was the Department winning this battle on residue?

The Chairperson said that the Committee previously indicated that government should look into buying these struggling poultry farms and then use those newly bought poultry farms for transformation purposes.

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) said that the Committee was yet to be provided an outstanding update on the work that was done by dti in September 2017 especially on its discussion with dti. There should be timelines in place so that we do not do things forever. Where are these poultry farms located geographically as this was critical important for the purposes of conducting oversight? In regard to consumer demand, it was commendable to see that the Department was encouraging consumers to buy locally produced goods. However, it was unclear if there are any enforcement measures that are being implemented to ensure success of this. On the issue of poultry farms that are about to close down or those that had already closed down, the Committee was clear that government should take a conscious decision to buy those farms in order to save jobs. We got an understanding that government was going to look into that.

Mr Maloyi indicated that the imported chickens in the country are problematic especially since most countries that the Department was doing business with were not adhering to the existing regulations particularly the United States of America (USA). How long does it take for a chicken to move from Brazil or USA to South Africa? What is the expiry date for these imported chickens? The issue of labelling and packaging was critically important and this needed to be prioritised as we cannot please everyone in this regard. As South Africans we always want to please everyone and this is sometimes done at the expense of our people. There is a need to review poultry packaging and how it was accessed in the country especially, particularly in regard to adhering to all the regulations.

Mr N Capa (ANC) commented that the only concern he had was that there was no reference to small producers especially in production and not marketing. There was a general lack of assistance that is provided to Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and cooperatives. There should be a timeline on the rollout plan for the assistance of the 4 poultry farms.

Mr A Madella (ANC) commented on the letter that was issued by the Department to ensure that consumers buy locally produced goods. The issue of job losses and measures to save other jobs within the poultry farm was critically important. DAFF had an existing Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Microbial Monitoring. A revised procedure manual was drafted and distributed to stakeholders for inputs, the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) had challenged the Department on its implementation. What was the nature of this challenge? Was this a court challenge? Did this mean that DAFF cannot proceed and implementing on the SOP for microbial monitoring? It is important to hear from DAFF on whether the review of the Agricultural Product Standard Act to deal with concerns that had been flagged by Members on labelling and packaging of imported goods entering our market.

Mr S Mncwabe (NFP) said that there are still Rainbow chicken farms in his constituency and this was something that was a major concern. There was an indication that the Department was planning to buy these Rainbow chicken farms from the previous owners. The Committee should be provided with an update on the process of acquiring these farms from Rainbow chicken as this was a major concern for the employees involved.

The Chairperson wanted to know about the number of jobs that had been saved and the number of poultry farms that had been assisted and where are these poultry farms allocated. The issue of the R1 billion Agro-Processing incentive launched by the Department still needed to be explained further as to where this money was coming from and how it was going to provide assistance as Agro-Processing was not only focused on poultry farms. How are farmers going to be able to access the R1 billion so that Members could be able to spread the message to all the farmers especially small scale farmers in the country? It seemed like there was no progress that had been made on food security and this was a concern by the Committee.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli responded that the work of the Task Team is still on-going and the Department was trying to fast-track some of the interventions especially in terms of dealing with loss of jobs as we cannot afford that as government. The National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) is a centre that is run by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The 4 poultry farms are owned by different poultry farms and they are also linked to the projects that are undertaken by CSIR. One of the cost drivers in the poultry industry was energy and these included cost of water and electricity. The Department needs to find the solution especially in the exploration of alternatives like energy and water efficiency including the recycle of water. Small scale farmers have the opportunity to be able to slaughter their chickens. The Department was particularly focused on the shortage of feeding for chickens as there is a problem of this in the country and there was also an increase in the price of maize and this was one of the areas of focus for the Department in terms of providing farmers with assistance.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli added that the matter of the breeding stock was one of the challenges for farmers and there is a need to develop our own breeding facilities as a country as there is a shortage of these facilities at the moment. There is also a challenge in the point of lay for chickens as they are really expensive and these are currently one of the areas that the Department was focused on in terms of interventions. The lowering of the production inputs would ensure that farmers are viable and be able to sustain their business and keep those important jobs. The R1 billion Rand Agro-processing incentive scheme is not only related to the poultry business but also focusing on projects like forestry but distressed industries like the poultry industry would be considered for this incentive scheme which was launched by the Minister of dti. The Department wants to ensure that IDC is also involved in terms of financing. The application for the incentive scheme closed on 31 January 2018 and the Department was currently busy with the adjudication process and the outcome of the process would be shared. The Department was still trying to do a follow-up on the 4 poultry farms that were bought in EThekwini and she stated that she has a meeting with the KZN National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) Economic Desk this Friday.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli indicated that the Department was focused on the transformation of the sector as there is a need to ensure that there is participation of small businesses in the value chain as there are few small scale farmers at the moment. The Department would need to work very closely with those municipalities that already have an interest in buying those facilities as this is an opportunity that small scale farmers can tap into. The Department would not be the only one dealing with issues related to trade with international partners but there are also various players. The process of promoting consumers to buy locally produced goods was still ongoing and the Department has requested for the designation of poultry products. The process has not been completed and there are challenges that are still being experienced like lack of specific item linking to the poultry industry. The Department is also look into the possibility of implementing enforcement measures to promote the purchase of locally produced goods. There will be an indication to entities that they must look at locally produced goods before considering the imported goods. The Department can be able to intervene if the tender is not able to meet the specification in terms of the local content requirements.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli mentioned that the Task Team will be looking at the procurement of closed down poultry farms as the Department was working together with municipalities and Rainbow chicken and the Department believed that proper diligence should be taken in this regard. There is still a need to do an exercise of quantification of job losses and the Department at the moment was making specific reference to figures from the industry of plus 1 000 jobs that had been lost and maybe there are still more jobs that had been lost.

Mr Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, explained that there is a focus on looking at whether the imported chickens are fit for consumption and these are the cautions that were undertaken in that regard. These inspections and testing are to ensure that the imported meat would not be a threat for human consumption. There was a certificate of commitment from the USA Department of Agriculture that is responsible for this trade agreement to comply with all the rules and regulations.

Dr Maja agreed that indeed there was an engagement with the USA Department of Agriculture on highlighting the concerns in terms of fitness of these imported chickens for consumption. The USA was against the testing of the imported chickens beyond finding which type of salmonella existed when we detected salmonella. DAFF was still conducting this testing as there was a need to avoid bacteria and there are some salmonellas that cause diseases to humans and we need to know what is coming to the country so as to mitigate the potential risks. DAFF was still working on testing the products as they come to the country. The R40 million that had been given to the Department still covered residue monitoring in animal. DAFF was working closely with industries and dti to secure funds to beef-up laboratory facilities especially on residue monitoring. The meeting with the European Union (EU) last week did not yield positive results and South Africa was removed from list of countries that have a recognised residue monitoring programme for farm games. Farm games included crocodiles and ostriches but the country can still export zebra.

Dr Maja stated that the Department had close working relations with the exporting industries including crocodile, the game and ostrich industries and this was on recovering the markets. The Department has identified 6 private laboratories that have sent the accreditation to handle their samples and the plan has been given to the EU for their consideration. The EU processes are very lengthy and therefore this would not be an overnight exercise but we have undertaken to update them regularly on the samples that are continuously being collected and the results could be used when reevaluating the request of the Department. It takes roughly about 21 days for products from USA to come to South Africa by ship and one of the requirements is that the meat must be frozen to -12 degrees and -18 degrees for some commodities. There are measures in place to determine whether those temperatures were maintained throughout. This is to ensure that the quality and safety of the meat for consumption is not compromised. The expiry date of the imported meat is fairly long and in most cases the expiry date is not even close to the expiration. The Department of Health is the one handling products that are about to expire and the country has not had to deal with this in the recent past.

Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, Acting Director-General (DG), DAFF; responded that there is still a lot of consolidation of information that needed to be taken between DAFF and dti in terms of the total of poultry industries that had been assisted. DAFF had a clear outline on the projects that had been put to the rescue and there is a full list of those farms. There is also available information on money that had been spent on these projects per province including Free State and Limpopo. DAFF and dti would need to quantify those jobs that had been saved due to interventions taking into consideration of the dti Task Team.  There is no indication that was provided on where the Department needed to sacrifice the quality aspect when it comes to the products that come to the country. The only issue flagged was related to food safety and the need to close the existing gaps and this was between the Department of Health and DAFF. DAAF would need to be transparent in terms of the new risk regulations as this was critically important that we might bring-in in addressing those existing gaps that had been identified. There was an engagement that Dr Modisane had with the European Union and there was an indication that issues around sanitary and phytosanitary have become very controversial at international level and to the extent that they have become the new barriers to entry for different products that the country was trading with and South Africa was not closing an eye in terms of this. South Africa was challenging some of these new barriers through the dispute resolution mechanisms that are put in place. In closing, the Department had all the information in terms of investments contribution in agriculture and this information can be shared with the Committee.

The Chairperson noted that there were no timelines in the last meeting on when the Department was supposed to response on ways to save possible job losses within the industry. However, it was unfortunate that the Committee still needed to wait for the report on the job losses and the jobs that had been saved. It was clear that the Department did not do what was supposed to have been done.

Ms Steyn indicated that she was underwhelmed by the report that had been provided by DAFF as there was no response to the specific question that was asked on poultry farms that had been assisted. The Committee was already aware that the challenges are in energy including water and electricity but the Committee asked dti and DAFF to get together and try to resolve these issues. There is nothing new that was reported by the Department here. The Committee should be provided with a full report of all poultry farms already under state control as there are many poultry farms that had been bought already over the 2-3 years. How are we providing assistance to those farms to ensure that they are viable? It was concerning to hear that DAFF was still “working” on testing the imported products and this was a major concern for the Committee. Was there any testing that was being conducted by the Department? There should also be information on the percentage of testing of products that was undertaken.

Mr Maloyi commented that the President and his predecessor spoke about the importance of agriculture in the State of the Nation (SONA). It seemed like it was only us who are not taking agriculture very seriously. Agriculture can contribute a great deal in creating employment in the country and millions of people can be employed from the agricultural sector. It was always frustrating to see that there is often no significant progress that is being made when we asked the officials to undertake a particular duty. The Committee had a meeting last year with all these departments and there were discussions on issues that are being discussed today and this illustrated the fact that there is a problem somewhere. We need to work extremely hard so as to do what the President mandated us to do in terms of agriculture. There were discussions 4 weeks ago about these frozen chickens that are being imported into the country and this was reported to take 21 days to arrive. There is always a problem in the repackaging of this imported frozen chicken as it was reported that these chickens from different countries are packaged together. Was this allegation correct? How does one resolve this particular problem? It is important to prevent any unnecessary problems caused by these imported chickens especially because of lack of adherence to regulations and guidelines.

Mr P Van Dalen (DA) indicated that the testing of the imported chickens was very good. How secure is our imported meat since there is still a challenge on the testing samples?

The Chairperson said that there was request from Poultry Association to meet with the Committee and there was a decision to invite DAAF to be part of the meeting. There were issues that were flagged on the crisis within the sector and there was a request for Parliament due to job losses as poultry farms are closing down. The Committee was told that there would be an establishment of a Task Team after the AGOA settlement. The Committee decided to call the Task Team to appear in the meeting today and the issues that were raised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) were focused on the loss of jobs and the closing down of poultry farms. The Committee was only provided with information of what the Department was doing on a daily basis instead of concrete matters that had been flagged by FAO in the previous meeting.

Mr Zokwana promised to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Trade and Industry and then provide the Committee with a date on when to do a report back. The concerns raised by FAO were discussed and there were discussions on how to tackle these challenges. The Department did not have a precise response on what was being done to assist poultry farms. There is indeed a concern that some of the testing may not be proper. The Committee was provided with a report on some of the testing that was conducted on containers from Brazil where there were traces of rotten meat but chemically cleaned to look fresh. The Department was able to take legal route to contest such occurrence as it was completely unacceptable to get a rotten meat in the country. The challenge seems to be on the time it takes to conduct testing and the preference was always on random testing so as to fast-tracking the coming in of containers. The USA indicated that they have picked up salmonella in the bones of some chickens that were coming to South Africa. The team of the Department was doing a lot of good work and this was proven by the detection of the rotten chickens coming from Brazil.

Mr Zokwane added that the Department of Health was working together with DAFF to deal with health related issues. It is indeed true that there was a concern from FAO on jobs that had been lost because of the closing down of poultry farms. The Department was still to provide a response on the number of poultry facilities that had been bought. The focus of the Department was on how to save the jobs from extinction and the Department was meant to be answering those questions. The Department apologised if it was unable to answer the questions that had been asked by Members.

Mr Ramasodi replied that the Department had prepared a presentation on the issue of monitoring of ports-of-entries on the imported products. There was a communication with dti on the work that was being done by the Task Team and the Committee would be responding on that meeting in October this year. The presentation that was being presented to the Committee was a consolidated presentation that also takes into consideration all the role players. The Task Team included FAO and other role players within the sector. There was a concern about the mixed portions coming from different countries and the issue of labelling could be able to deal with this conundrum of lack of traceability of products.

Dr Maja apologised for the confusion and clarified that the Department was working on the revising of the standard operating procedure. The work at the ports-of-entry in terms of testing for bacteria is ongoing and this was done daily on every consignment, meaning on each and every container. The Department was taking 5 samples from five different boxes from 5 different locations in the container and this is then sent to the accredited laboratories for testing of bacteria like salmonella and listeriosis. There are internationally acceptable limits that the Department observes and for salmonella this was zero bacteria while there is allowance of bacteria that does not exceed the limit. Some of the consignments have been rejected and returned to the country of origin because of the level of bacteria that had been detected at the ports-of-entries. There are only a handful of accredited laboratories that can conduct the testing and this was one of the challenges to be dealt with. It is legally permissible to have a mixture of packaging of the meat.

Dr Maja responded that there was a task team that was set up consisting of DAFF, dti and the Department of Health after the scandal of horse meat and the task team was aimed at addressing issues related to issuing of import permits, health certificates and checking of products at ports-of-entries. All the listeriosis samples have been finalised and this will be attended to in the next presentation. Most of the imported products were analysed and the positive samples would be send for further testing to determine if there linked to human cases that are found. The Department can confirm that there was no link between the imported samples and the outbreak of listeriosis in the country.

Ms Mcatha-Mhlauli indicated that dti would try to improve on where necessary in terms of the work of the Task Team and this would require support from both Ministers (DAAF and dti). There is consideration of the fact that there is a lot of work that still needed to be done.

The Chairperson said that there were lot of promises that had been made by the Department and none of them had been honoured. The Department should help the Committee in moving forward. The Committee appreciated the feedback provided on the Task Team but we must make it clear that Members are not happy about the slow progress that had been made. There was no clear indication on how the Department was able to deal with job losses as a result of closure of poultry farms. The Committee would want to reiterate that the issue of prioritising agriculture started with the former President Mandela. The National Development Plan (NDP) has a timeline on what was to be achieved by DAFF. There should be a need to ensure that agriculture becomes the centre of the creation of jobs and growing the economy of the country. The Committee had previously discussed the issue of monitoring of the ports-of-entries and perhaps Members needed to monitor the ports-of-entries in Cape Town without informing the Department so as to see how it is doing the testing of imported goods undertaken. The Committee was interested in seeing the sector growing and this is the job of these task teams.

Update by DAAF on the Fall Armyworm (FAW), Listeriosis and Fruit fly outbreaks
Dr Mpho stated that FAW is a quarantine pest for South Africa, with an internationally documented wide host range. It is a notifiable pest in South Africa and regulated in terms of the Agricultural Pests Act, 1983 and other relevant regulations. The presence of FAW in South Africa was confirmed on 3 February 2017 with positive morphological and molecular identification of caterpillars and adult moths. The presence of the pest was announced on the International Plant Protection Convention’s portal in terms of South Africa’s international pest reporting obligations. The FAW is probably in most of the maize production areas in the country. However, the infestation is very limited in some provinces and these provinces included Gauteng, North West, Free State and Eastern Cape. High infestation occurs in Limpopo and Umkhanyakude District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). There are currently 50 registered agrochemicals thus far and they are available on the website of the Department. There are no new chemicals that are registered in 2018.

Dr Maja indicated that the infestation level is less than the previous year (2017), since most of the farmers are using or spraying registered agrochemicals. There were no more chemicals that were registered during 2017 to manage and control FAW and therefore there are more options to control the pest. The situation is currently under control and the Department has allocated a budget to deal with any likelihood of a further outbreaks. In relation to listeriosis outbreak, as from 14 February 2018, there are 872 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis from all provinces in the country. Most cases have been reported from Gauteng and KZN. Cases have been diagnosed in both public and private healthcare sectors. Females account for 53% of cases where gender is reported. There was also a detection of the outbreak of Fruit fly in around the country especially in Grabouw in Western Cape. On 31 January 2018 one male specimen was detected in Grabouw and reported to the Department.


Discussion
Ms Steyn indicated that it was important for Members to be provided with an update on the FAW as we always get questions from farmers. It was also unclear if Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are immune or resistant to the FAW? If GMOs are resistant to FAW then perhaps the Department should consider using GMOs to improve on food security. What is the potential possibility that the worm was moving to other crops in the country. It seemed like there is no funding in place in order to be able to prevent the possible spread of this worm. How are we going to conduct research in this regard? It would be important to get more information on the confidentiality and the non-disclosure by certain laboratories conducting testing for listeriosis. What is the legal aspect of this confidentiality by certain laboratories especially this disease was killing a lot of people in the country? There was an indication of the introduction of national food control authority to deal with the scandal that erupted on the donkey meat. The Committee should be provided with an update on the set up of this national food control authority.

Ms Steyn stated that she was currently working with people who suspect that this listeriosis micro-toxins from the grain. The Department should come up with information on what it is testing and what was being suspected. It was initially indicated that the positive results of listeriosis was found mostly in processed meat. The Department should go through the route of national food control authority that consists of experts from various research fields to deal with these outbreaks. There should be collaboration between clusters than having everyone working in silos.    



Mr W Maphanga (ANC) expressed concern about this confidentiality clause by certain laboratories conducting testing for listeriosis considering that this disease had the potential to be a natural disaster. What is the way forward in this regard? What could be done legally to pursue the laboratories to publish information on sampling results on listeriosis?

The Chairperson wanted to know if the measures that had been put in place to control the listeriosis were sufficient. There is a possibility that we would not manage some of the diseases due to climate change but the only thing we can deal with is to put measures in place to manage these diseases. It would be important to know the progress that was made by the Department in terms of management of listeriosis especially when one takes into consideration the financial constrains and budget cuts from the Treasury. There is lack of public education on the scourge of this diseases and hygienic ways to prevent the spread of listeriosis. The Committee should congratulate the Department on the work that was done on Fruit fly outbreaks. The worm that is affecting our staple food needed to be attended as soon as possible as this was likely to impact on poor people. There should be coordination and collaboration between provinces on dealing with the issue of drought resistant maize and how it could assist small scale farmers. The Committee should set up a meeting in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is GMO, how does it affect people and this would require qualified people to provided information in this regard. It is true that we were told that the Office of the Presidency was establishing a Food Control Agency but there were still some challenges in terms of budget allocation. The Border Management Agency was also crucial important as these things are related to the control of our borders.

Mr Zokwana responded that the Department would not like to justify the perception that GMOs are resistant to Fruit fly until there is a debate and scientific research that is being conducted in this regard. Africa as a continent has not developed its own seed and there is a heavy reliance on these monopolies. There is something that farmers have suggested to deal with Fruit fly but there is nothing scientific yet. The Fruit fly was affecting most of the crops and there was an indication that it was affecting sorghum. The pest seemed to be doing well in areas like Latin America and other warm areas like Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The Department was cooperating with other science-based organisations to deal with this pest but the priority should be to provide information on the quantity that should be applied in spraying. It is much easier to manage the pest when the maize is still small in size but extremely difficult when maize was starting to grow. There is a drone that is being used to manage taller maize in size and this was extremely expensive. The Department was on board in dealing with this and we should not allow alarmists to scare people.

Mr Zokwana added that the issue of the listeriosis still needed to be debated and the Department believed that we should be concerned but most of the problem is on contamination and this might be in processing or packaging of meat. It was stated that the sources of listeriosis included water, soil and vegetables and therefore the washing and cooking food we are eating is essential. Sushi was one of the food that is not being cooked and this had the potential to spread listeriosis. Salmonella is available in some of the products other than in the USA chicken. The Department was vigilant and there was collaboration with other organisations and there is a need to do more with the public sector. We need to control our disease control management systems and ensure that there is a closure of existing gaps and collaborate with other government departments. The issue of confidentiality might have to do with competition and the fear of jeopardising the name of producers. The Department was certainly in agreement on the need to tighten ports-of-entries. South African Development Communities (SADC) appreciated the approach that was taken by South Africa in dealing promptly with listeriosis. It is also alleged that GMOs do well in conditions of drought but this is still a debate the Committee still needed to have.

Mr Ramasodi explained that the allegations that GMOs are resistant to Fruit fly and drought are still claims and unproven as the Minister has indicated. There will be money set aside to deal with FAW but there was no budget that was set aside for policy research. The Department would take the message to the Task Team and Minister of Health on the intensification of information on preventative measures for listeriosis. There is not enough resource to deal with these outbreaks but the Department was happy that there is a strengthening of capacity at provincial level.

The Chairperson reiterated that there were lot of promises that had been made by the Department and none of them had been honoured. The Department should help the Committee in moving forward. The Committee appreciated the feedback provided on the Task Team but we must make it clear that Members are not happy about the slow progress that had been made. There was no clear indication on how the Department was able to deal with job losses as a result of closure of poultry farms. There should be a need to ensure that agriculture becomes the centre of the creation of jobs and growing the economy of the country. The Committee had previously discussed the issue of monitoring of the ports-of-entries. There is lack of public education on the scourge of this diseases and hygienic ways to prevent the spread of listeriosis. The Committee should congratulate the Department on the work that was done on Fruit fly outbreaks. The worm that is affecting our staple food needed to be attended as soon as possible as this was likely to impact on poor people.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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