Implications of Meat Safety Act; DEFF on single use plastics, extended producer responsibility and recent gazzetted legislation on plastics, with Minister

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Meeting Summary

The Committee convened on a virtual platform to be briefed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) as well as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) on the implications of the Meat Safety Act and the Animal Improvement Act, respectively.

The DARDLR explained that purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide for measures to promote meat safety and safety of animal products, to establish and maintain essential national standards in respect of abattoirs. Section two of the Act allows the Minister to amend schedule one, adding any type of an animal to determine that specific section of this Act does not apply to a certain type of an animal. Section seven on the Act puts emphasis on prohibition of slaughtering of an animal anywhere except at an abattoir. The Minister has authority to make sure there is uniformity in the application of the Act in all provinces.

The Members reckoned that when these Acts are not clearly defined, that opens the industry to confusion that may lead to the thinking that slaughtering is allowed on threatened and protected species for consumption. This should be avoided as it will certainly lead to intensive breeding on these animals for their meat and parts. In the event of such an unintended consequence of this amendment, who will take responsibility to enforce animal welfare?

The Members also noted that the Department said that the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, alongside with other veterinary services from the state, are monitoring animal welfare. However, there has been a clear lack of resources to enforce animal welfare consideration. The gross animal welfare violation and neglect continues as seen in many farms; adding other animals is making matters even worse. Prevention here will be better than cure as there are no adequate resources to enforce this.

The DEFF said that listing of animals under Animal Improvement Act has more to do with ownership of these animals by the country and not farmers. If South Africa does not register animals, it will lose it sovereignty over these animals.

The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries started off by indicating that she had had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. In this meeting, she expressed to her in that meeting the concerns of the DALRRD and that of the Committee with regards to these regulations. As such, a joint task team was established to ensure that matters pertaining to the environment and the protection of threatened species need to be factored into the way which regulations are crafted.

A Member felt that giving plastic industry ten years to reach 100% post-consumer recyclate is too much. The Minister needs to act with urgency. South African rivers are full of plastics as it is. What kinds of waste management plans have been discussed? The talk is about flat plastic bags but what about straws and other plastic products, like utensils, diapers, cosmetic micro beads?

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson

The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting, welcoming Members and the guest delegations. He then explained the purpose of the meeting. There are two presentations and Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) will present first, even though the Department Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) had called sharing an intention to present first. Due to breakdown in communication between Chairperson and PLO of the Minister, the latter Department could not be accommodated to present first.

After noting apologies from absent Members, the Chairperson opened the floor for the first presentation.

Briefing by the DARDLR on the implications of the Meat Safety Act

Dr Mphane Molefe, Director: Veterinary Public Health, DARDLR, said the purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide for measures to promote meat safety and safety of animal products, to establish and maintain essential national standards in respect of abattoirs. As the Constitution of the country allows government to set essential national standards to cover the whole country, veterinary services are a concurrent function with provinces. Therefore, in order to put up a system that will be applicable consistently throughout the country essential national standards need to be set up. Regulate importations and exportation of meat, establishment and implementation of meat safety schemes across the country.

The crux of the Meat Safety Act is on how it defines an animal. The Act does not have scientific definition of an animal but rather list animals and refers to schedule one at the end of the Act itself. According to the Act, an animal is an animal as listed in the schedule one. Therefore, any animal not listed under the Act is not regarded as animal. As such, the Act does not apply to that animal but that has negative areas; that is what needs to be addressed. Section two of the Act allows the Minister to amend schedule one; adding any type of an animal to determine that specific section of this Act does not apply to a certain type of an animal. The Minister has authority to make sure there is uniformity in the application of the Act in all provinces. Section seven on the Act puts emphasis on prohibition of slaughtering of an animal anywhere except at an abattoir.

Discussion

Ms H. Winkler (DA) remarked that she has several points that she needs clarity on, as well as suggestions. If the intent and motivation behind the amendment to schedule one of the Act is not to encourage wide-scale intensive farming nor the breeding of threatened or protected species for consumption, that should be a caveat to the amendment. The amendment should be clearer in its intent, clearly stating that the amendment to Schedule 1 will apply to wildlife that are culled. It should clearly and emphatically state that it does not authorise any intensive commercial breeding of threatened or protected species for human and animal consumption. This will clarify the motivation behind this amendment to the general public and further avoid any ideas or suspicions that there is more going on. After all, South Africans have a huge personal and emotional investment in protecting our world-renowned wildlife. To avoid this backlash, be clear.

Her second suggestion related to the judgement rendered by Judge Jody Kollapen, who stated that welfare considerations need to be factored in when implementing any legislation pertaining to our wildlife. This is because of concerns that have arisen on animal welfare neglect in the captive predator breeding industry. When acts and amendments are not clearly defined, it opens up the industry to confusion - and has led many to adopt thinking that slaughtering of threatened and protected species for consumption will now be legally permitted. This unintended consequence of the amendment needs to seriously be avoided, as it may very well certainly lead to intensive breeding on these animals for their meat and parts. As it is, NSPCA (National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has conducted investigations where 92 lion farms had been found to be in violation of animal welfare. In the event of such an unintended consequence of the amendment, and the ensuing intensive breeding of our threatened and protected species, who will take responsibility to enforce animal welfare? NSPCA, which is not even government-funded, cannot be the sole entity overseeing animal welfare as they do not have adequate capacity nor funding.  If the amendment is not to encourage intensive breeding and farming of threatened and protected species, are we adding these animals to the list? Where are you finding people eating these animals, why is this amendment necessary? Why are some animals listed on the schedule and others not? Why are lions not listed on the schedule, but included rather in the catch-all phrase at the bottom of the amendment which says that the amendment applies to all other animals? 

In terms of environmental and provincial legislation on TOP species, when wild species were included in the amendment to the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) they were now considered "livestock" and no longer wildlife. Do Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (TOPS) still apply to wildlife animals considered livestock under the Animal Improvement Act?

Mr N Singh (IFP) noted that the presentation highlights the challenge between conservation and meat side. His simple definition of an animal is that any organic matter with specialised sense in particular – organ, chicken, giraffe and lion are animals.

He heard Dr Molefe saying that there is a discussion on scheduling and classification. Mr Singh thought that is important to move forward because certainly the exclusion in the schedule of some of these animals considered wildlife does cause problems. As the Minister of that consultation process has informed, the Committee and the Department need to be involved in order to preserve all animals from exploitation by anybody.

Responses

Dr Molefe replied by first welcoming and thanking everyone who contributed with their positive suggestions and constructive approach on how to attend to the challenges raised by the general public, so as parliamentarians. This will assist the Department in reaching the desired outcome. After the drafting there was a clarification notice which can be made available to the Members and it details so much of what he has addressed on the presentation today. It can even be used it to make it clear as to what is the intention, which animals can be slaughtered for human consumption and which ones cannot be consumed. In this, the Department is working with DAFF.

On the matter of responsibility for the control and implementation once this is approved, he said that in addition to the NSPCA, the Department is doing its best through the veterinary system that exists in the country. The Department is doing its best to monitor the implantation of Animal Protection Act. The judgement by Judge Jody Kollapen assisted the Department to compel officials even outside of the Act itself to implement provision in considering animal welfare. Even when animals enter abattoir they should be handled with utmost care. The Department is still drafting various pieces of legislation to further clarify animal welfare requirements. It is working on any issue that has not been identified in animal protection act as it is an old act. Until the whole Act is changed, the Department is working on regulations that can also bring the aspect of monitoring.

The issue of animals listed in schedule one and those who are included at the bottom of the amendment as any other animal. All the animals could be listed but that will be a tedious exercise which will see the document with hundreds of pages. The list was also a way of covering any loopholes in a case an animal that is not on the list is discovered; it will fall under ‘any other animal’ – a section at the bottom. Regarding TOPS animals registered under the Animal Improvement Act, there should be no contravention of regulations on wildlife and livestock animal. However, Mr Joel Mamabolo, the registrar of the Animal Improvement Act,, will respond better as he is the one who deals with it. The issue of collaboration has been noted as raised because it will bring harmony in realising desired outcome.

Follow-up questions

Ms Winkler zeroed-in on the “all species of other animals” phrase and asked if it includes lions. Since the Department cannot provide the list of animals not included, perhaps it can work on providing all those that are excluded from Meat Safety Act. Why was the amendment initially pitched in the Department? It will only make sense if there have been numerous cases whereby threaten and protected species has been butchered and sold. Where have we had instances that indicate the need of this amendment?

The uncertainty when responding to Animal Improvement Act is concerning. Contrary to what the Department has been emphasising throughout your presentation, whereby they were indicating at no point does the Meat Safety Act amendment trump environmental and provincial legislation. It is rather going to be the safeguard against the mass commercial and intensive breeding of wildlife for consumption. If animals that are included in Animal Improvement Act are not regulated by TOPS regulations, it makes whole argument null and void. That should be a huge red flag and should be considered before this amendment is gazzetted. How are we going to afford protection for the wildlife, threatened and protected species?

She noted that the Department said that the NSCPA, alongside with other veterinary services from the state, are monitoring animal welfare. However, there has been a clear lack of resources to enforce animal welfare consideration. The gross animal welfare violation and neglect continues as seen in many farms; adding other animals is making matters even worse. Prevention here will be better than cure as there are no adequate resources to enforce this.

Mr Singh remarked that throughout the presentation, the Committee heard about several Acts, including the Meat Safety Act, Animal Improvement Act and the Animal Production Act. Conservations have a particular mandate. Where do we go to from here? We need to do something to regularise this matter as far as conservation is concerned. What steps will the Department propose that can be confirmed with the minister?

Responses

Dr Molefe responded the first question on whether this provision includes lion, confirming that it does. He added that listing animals to which the list does not apply will bring about the need to change the entire Act itself, which is a legal matter that can take several years.

The response to why the need for this amendment Act is that there has been several cases of lions being slaughtered and their bones used for broth. This has been the case for giraffe culled in game reserves and the meat gets donated to community members around the game reserve. That is illegal as the meat safety act forbids that process to be done until it is regularize.

On the Animal Improvement Act and TOPS working together, he explained that the collaboration between DAFF and DALRRD would be able to close any possible loopholes in areas that are not covered. The Animal Improvement Act and Meat Safety Act are not the same legislation. Therefore, listing of animals under schedule one does not have anything to do with listing of animals under the Animal Improvement Act.

When people draft legislation, the argument is whether it is wise to make a law that you cannot enforce or leave it without making it and allow anybody to do what they want to do. If you do not have enough resources, do you still want to regulate this sphere and ensure there is provision for conformity in that sphere?  Otherwise, if one claims to not have resources and thus not going to enter this sphere, this may lead to an uncontrolled environment where everybody does what they want because there is no law that forbids.  The Department thought that it will be better to put legislation in place for control; it also does public awareness to ensure compliance in that law. That is the approach to be taken, given the limited resources at the Department’s disposal.

To answer the ‘where to from here’ question, he reiterated that the Department is collaborating with DAFF. The working group is working on that list and the outcome of the two departments in terms of the correct way of phrasing list is the aim. If there is a strong point indicating the need to abandon that, the Department will consider that. That will then be tabled to the relevant authorities, including the Ministers who will make the decision at the end of the day.

Briefing by the Department of Environment on the Animal Improvement Act

Mr Joel Mamabolo, Registrar in Animal Improvement Act, Department, said that listing of animals under Animal Improvement Act has more to do with ownership of these animals by the country and not farmers. If South Africa does not register animals, it will lose it sovereignty over these animals. Listing of animals is of national importance and it is complementary to existing legislation like Meat Safety Act. South Africa (SA) cannot claim to have Buffalo meat when it does not have ownership of Buffalo registered under SA in the Animal Improvement Act.

The Chairperson proposed that the briefing by Mr  Mamabolo not to be engaged and he handed over to the Minister.

Remarks by the Minister

Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, started off by indicating that she had had a meeting with Minister Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Ms Creecy said that she expressed to her in that meeting the concerns of the DALRRD and that of the Committee with regards to these regulations. As such, a joint task team was established to ensure that matters pertaining to the environment and the protection of threatened species need to be factored into the way which regulations are crafted. The DALRRD is off the view that the TOPS regulations should take precedence. She brought this matter to Minister Didiza’s attention and they have set up a working group.

Regarding welfare matters, she explained that this is an issue which is currently under consideration. Welfare falls within the domain of the minister of Agriculture. But there are a whole range of issues which Members are aware of in relation to welfare challenges and the Department has seized with the issue of the judgement by Judge Kollapen. She shares the concerns with the Committee. The Department is looking at what regulatory amendments would be necessary to empower me to engage in welfare matters where these matters overlap with her portfolio.

She handed over to acting DDG to present the subject of today on how the DALRRD is dealing with plastic waste.

Single-use plastics and Extended Producer Responsibility: DEFF Briefing

The presentation relates to, among other things, products made in plastic which are inexpensive, durable and light weight. This becomes an issue as they often end up in the environment, water ways and marine. The issue of households who are not receiving waste removal services also makes illegal dumping an issue.

Discussion

Ms Winkler thanked the Department for the comprehensive report. She asked why it is that the deadline seems to be very accommodating to the plastics industry.  In other African states, about 34 countries have successfully implemented single use plastic ban. About 16 countries have total ban on plastic use and South Africa should be leading in this regard. We could be stricter on our timelines; we are too accommodating. Giving plastic industry ten years to reach 100% post-consumer recyclate is too much.  The Minister needs to act with urgency. South African rivers are full of plastics as it is. What kinds of waste management plans have been discussed? The talk is about flat plastic bags but what about straws and other plastic products, like utensils, diapers, cosmetic micro beads?

Mr J Lorimer (DA) asked what the Department meant when it said plastic bags must be made from the minimum of 50% post-consumer recyclate.

Responses

Minister Creecy responded that the issue of diapers is that it has several other products in them. The Ministry put up a task team looking at what can be done with used diapers. There have been some interesting pilot projects where the content has been used for agricultural purposes to enhance soil absorbency. However, it does not fall directly under the plastics streams because a diaper is a mixed product. She agreed that the presence of these products in SA’s water channels is concerning and more especially on the wetlands because if you have these products covering our wetlands it does compromise the ecosystem services that the wetlands are performing. On this particular product, the Department is engaging in further research and, in due course, will be in a position to brief the Committee.

Concerning microbeads, the Department is working with the Department of Health (DoH), as microbeads are in products like shampoos and cosmetics, to phase these out of the system. It is not something that is directly under the Department’s control.

The reason why the Department is working with the plastic industry is that the industry is big and an employer of people under the current pandemic circumstances; the Department is not in a position to put all these people out of work. There are enough people who have lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Department is trying to ensure that between the plastics industry and the Consumer Goods Council fast food sector, substitution products are introduced. The Department is working with the industry to remove those products from the product offering of the fast food chain and introduce products that are bio degradable and do not have the devastating impact that all of these single use plastics have.

Concerning the issue of an outright ban, the question to consider is that despite the legislation to control the nature of plastic products and plastics bags, these regulations were adhered to in some environments and ignored in others. The Department does not have the mechanism at its disposal to impose the ban and implement it. Its approach is based on working with the industry to remove these commodities from the value chain. The Department has done and enormous amount of research and Plastics SA and the Consumer Goods Council has also done an enormous amount of research. The Minister visited a project in Amanzimtoti, where they have a facility called a Ka-ching machine, where children take plastic commodities and it is weighed and they are paid in airtime for their cell phones.

There are a lot of interesting ways that the industry is monetising used plastic so there is encouragement by the community to return these goods. One of the big beverage makers introduced returnable plastic bottles and this works the same way the old glass bottles used worked. These are the kind of innovation that needs to be introduced so we re-use, recycle and obviously minimise that waste. The plan is to have it in a way that does not jeopardise jobs and a way that stimulates the recycling industry with regards to the extended consumer responsibility under section 18. At certain stores, some products such as linen are not packaged in plastics.

The 50% recylclate refers to the product composition. Some of current plastic bags contain virgin material and not any recycling material. The proposal going into the future is that plastic bags be made only of recycled plastics and not new mined materials. Single use products such as straws and cups are covered under the EPR scheme and will have collection targets and recycling targets.

The meeting was adjourned.

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