Speaking in response to the latest meat labeling scandal, local red meat producers and advocacy groups have expressed the need for regulation throughout the meat production, packaging and retailing industry in South Africa.
The groups point the finger at wholesalers, unscrupulous importers and a lack of government intervention.
Speaking to applause at a red meat consumer’s debate in Paarl, Western Cape, head of the National Consumer Forum, Imraahn Ismail-Mukaddam said, "South Africa has become a dumping ground (for) unscrupulous meat importers". Ismail-Mukaddam said the bulk of the labeling problem does lie not with local abattoirs, but with “legislative loopholes when it comes to importing, where it becomes near impossible to ensure the integrity of products.”
He referred to a case involving Orion Cold Storage Company exposed by 3rd Degree in 2011 for relabeling pork and kangaroo on a mass scale as sheep and beef. Ismail-Mukaddam also made mention of importers and wholesalers colluding to label pork hearts as veal, and the mislabeling of chicken from Brazil and water buffalo from India. Ismail-Mukaddam said, “the local industry needs to take the bull by the horns and, to maintain integrity, the industry must pressurise government to get to the bottom of the problem.”
Members of the panel, which included representatives from the Abattoir Association, the Red Meat Producer’s Organisation and the Veterinary Institute of SA, seemed to point the finger firmly at wholesalers. Stating that in order to save costs and target products intended for lower LSM’s, certain wholesalers were deceitfully including foreign meats in, especially, mechanically deboned meat (MSM) such as polony.
While local abattoirs and red meat producers do appear to be taking proactive steps - including the recently gazetted National Abattoir Rating Scheme – they did concede that once the meat left their gates it was out of their hands, and expressed a need for stricter regulation and traceability.
One such suggestion came from Christa Hugo, an environmental health practitioner from the city of Cape Town, who suggested that the industry adopt the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP), a system developed by NASA to regulate food safety. Hugo said, “this would help bring South African standards in line with Europe and would ensure 90 percent of the industry is better regulated.”
The panel however expressed concerns over the cost of implementing such a system in South Africa.
Prof. Johann Kirsten from the University of Pretoria said that there was unequal situation when it came to exporting meat versus importing in South Africa, saying there was a massive “trade barrier”.
“We are being bullied by Europe when it comes to exporting agricultural goods, but there aren’t as strict regulations when it comes to products coming into South Africa,” said Kirsten, “there are bulk frozen meats coming in unregulated from Australia and New Zealand.”
Kirsten also expressed concern regarding the incorrect labeling of these products as ‘”free-range” and “from the Karoo” in SA.