Before listeria: how the processed-meat industry ‘blocked’ regulation

09 March 2018 - 13:00 By Linda Ensor
Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return meat to the Enterprise Factory store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg on March 5 2018.
Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return meat to the Enterprise Factory store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg on March 5 2018.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

The National Regulator for Compulsory Standards (NRCS) said on Friday that it had developed regulatory standards for the processed-meat industry in 2014‚ but that implementation was blocked when industry players rejected the proposed levies as being too high.

Processed meats have been identified as the cause of the outbreak of listeriosis‚ which has killed about 180 people.

We now know that for four years‚ manufacturers were aware of the hygiene risks that could lead to an outbreak of a disease like listeriosis.
DA spokesperson on trade and industry Dean Macpherson

Currently the NCRS regulates only canned-meat products and the processing facilities of canned-meat products‚ which can be distributed or sold only after they have been physically inspected.

NCRS acting CEO Edward Mamadise told parliament’s trade and industry committee that there were no compulsory specifications for processed meat products that were not regulated by the NCRS.

"A standard was developed with the view to regulate processed meat products. However‚ due to disagreements with the industry‚ the regulation was deferred to the Department of Health. The final draft of the compulsory specifications was accepted during a full stakeholder meeting on March 7 2014. However‚ the industry argued that the operational costs for the levies presented were too high‚" Mamadise said.

A levy subcommittee comprising members from the manufacturers‚ retailers‚ the Consumer Goods Council of SA‚ the South African National Consumer Union and the NCRS was set up in a bid to reach a solution‚ but no agreement could be reached. Instead the processed meat manufacturers proposed a model of self-regulation at a meeting with the Department of Trade and Industry in October 2014.

"The meeting noted that the identified risks emanating from the NCRS risk and impact analysis reports should not be ignored‚" Mamadise said.

He told MPs the matter ended up with only compositional quality regulation‚ which was proposed by the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries in July last year. This dealt only with the classification‚ packing and marking of processed meat products intended for sale in SA.

"The hygiene requirements are no part of this proposed regulation and will still only be covered in the general requirement for all foodstuffs under the Department of Health‚" he said.

Commenting on this revelation‚ DA spokesperson on trade and industry Dean Macpherson‚ said: "We now know that for four years‚ manufacturers were aware of the hygiene risks that could lead to an outbreak of a disease like listeriosis. The claim for culpability is now moving rapidly towards manufacturers for turning a blind eye to these risks which have claimed the lives of 180 people."


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