The intention of the session was to hear public submissions on the Liquor Products Amendment Bill. However, members of the public had not made submissions on the Bill and the wine industry was satisfied with the current form of the Bill. As the Committee did not have a quorum, only informal deliberations took place. The delegates from the Department of Agriculture were invited to brief the members present on the finer points of the Bill.
After a brief presentation members asked questions in order to clarify certain points about the composition of the board, the wording of certain clauses and the issue of testing for unwanted residual chemicals. The delegates also explained that beer had been omitted from the Bill because of the problems in regulating and monitoring informal brewers.
The Chairperson gave apologies on behalf of most of the members who were not able to attend for various reasons. Apart from the Chairperson, there were only three members present, one of whom left shortly after the meeting had commenced. As a result, a quorum was lacking and the Chairperson expressed regret that it would not be possible to finish with the Bill on that day. As no members of the public or the industry were present to make submissions, he then gave the floor to the delegation to begin the briefing.
Delegation from the Department of Agriculture: Mr Mike Modisana (Chief Director Food Health and Disaster Management), Mr Alex Seramula (Deputy Director Safety and Quality Assurance) and Mr Barry Beukes (Legal Advisor).
Liquor Products Amendment Bill [B22 – 2008]: Briefing
Mr Seramula addressed the aims of the amendments to the existing Act, referring to the PowerPoint presentation on the Liquor Products Amendment Bill.
Mr Modisana then took over; noting that the reason beer had not been included was because problems surrounding the control of sorghum and traditional beer would have arisen. The sector was too fragmented with numerous home and rural brewers and it had been impossible to consult adequately with them. The Department believed that it should rather speed up the current bill which would increase access to markets in the USA. and the Far East. Consequently, agreements on labelling and oenological practices were more important.
Dr A van Niekerk (DA) asked whether input from the champions of industry had been fully accommodated. In addition were there potential problems in terms of compliance with minimum health requirements for the USA and EU and did wine have to be tested for certain residual chemicals? He also wanted to know whether the Department had adequate mechanisms to comply with requirements for traceability.
Mr Modisana answered that the biggest obstacle to exports currently was the matter of certain prohibited names and World Wine Trade Group (WWTG) agreements. SA still used some of the names prohibited by the organisation.
Mr Seramula noted that until recently, traceability had not been an industry practice but now batch numbering made wine and spirits easier to trace. The testing laboratories now had the capacity to pick up all chemicals used in production.
The Chairperson inquired what the international trend for beer was currently, in terms of production standards.
Mr Modisana replied that safety standards had been established internationally and labelling and safety was controlled by local production systems. All that remained was for the Department to agree on the standards. Also, the concern with the proposed amendment dealing with the production of beer was that it might interfere with innovation on the part of South African Breweries (SAB). The definition of a liquor product in the Bill was also problematic as it would be difficult to control home and rural brewers who were mostly informal. Much consultation was needed to resolve this challenge.
The Chairperson said that it seemed as if the definition of beer might exclude certain production methods used in South Africa.
Ms B Ntuli (ANC) was doubtful as to how the monitoring of home brewers could hamper the industrial production of beer.
Mr Modisana replied that it was extremely difficult to control home and rural brewers because one had no idea of the quantities produced and how much was distributed. It would, therefore, not be fair to control a part of the production but not the whole sector.
Ms Ntuli persisted, saying that some mass production of sorghum beer took place and as it was a type of food it would surely be prudent to give some guidelines on its quality and safety.
Mr Barry Beukes indicated that it was a moot point at this stage as the Bill effectively excluded sorghum beer and non-alcoholic beers from the Bill.
Dr van Niekerk also raised concerns that the production of home brews should be controlled as in some cases they produced methanol in the fermentation process which was poisonous. He insisted that the question of unwanted residual chemicals had not been satisfactorily addressed. He told those present that he had been in contact with Brussels recently who had already published a list of chemicals that they regarded as unwanted in drinks. The EU would not import any beverage unless proof could be supplied that it was free of such chemicals. Dr van Niekerk asked for assurance from the department that it had the capacity to perform the requisite testing.
Mr Modisana replied that the laboratories had always engaged in testing wine. Approximately two years ago the EU had made certain suggestions regarding the upgrading of testing facilities which was done. Indeed, the biggest challenge, was the danger that expertise was being lured away. He stressed, however, that the department was able to fulfil EU requirements.
Mrs Ntuli required clarity on the composition of the Wine and Spirits Board. She asked whether the “other persons” nominated by the Minister needed industry-specific skills or not.
Mr Seramula answered the question rather obliquely by stating that one of the persons was the Chairperson, while the other was an alternative member.
The Chairperson asked for confirmation on how the Chairperson of the Board was appointed. It seemed to him that this would be done by the Board at its inaugural meeting.
Mr Modisana answered that according to Clause 2(a) of the Bill, the Minister would designate the Chairperson himself.
The Chairperson questioned the wording of the Bill’s Clause 2(c) which amended Section 2(4)(d) of the Act and stated: “…may not serve than two consecutive terms…” Clearly the word “more” had been omitted.
Ms Ntuli noted also that Clause (2)(c) and (d) seemed to conflict with each other.
Mr Beukes agreed that “more” must be inserted but that there was no conflict between sub-sections (c) and (d) if they were read carefully. It was clear that no member could serve more than two terms and that the Minister could reappoint a member of the Board without requiring the member to undergo the selection procedure again.
The Chairperson was concerned that if the Minister were able to reappoint a member without due consideration, it could lead to complacency and a slide towards mediocrity.
Mr Elton Greeve, Department Liaison Officer, noted that the Cabinet could review any appointment made by the Minister.
The Chairperson indicated that he would like to finalise the Bill by the end of the following week.
He adjourned the meeting.
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