South Africa’s poultry producers association said on Friday it was concerned that the country was accepting imports of untested mechanically deboned meat (MDM) into the country even as its neighbours blocked its own processed meat products over a listeriosis outbreak.
The association said reports about corruption and the evasion of food safety checks in the Brazilian meat and poultry industries were a continuing concern for South African consumers.
Brazilian police on Monday arrested the former chief executive of major food processor BRF on charges that he and other executives knew the company, the world’s largest poultry exporter, engaged in fraud to evade food safety checks.
“The South African Poultry Association calls on the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to determine whether BRF is a supplier of MDM to South Africa, and if so, how many thousand tons are imported every month from this company,” the association said.
“It is a matter of concern for the industry that, while many countries are blocking our processed meat products, South Africa continues to accept untested imported MDM, and we now find that food safety measures in the exporting country may have been circumvented.”
It urged the government to also establish from Brazilian authorities whether the food safety tests that BRF allegedly evaded included tests for listeria.
“Given the serious outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa, and the deaths of 180 people, we hope this is something the department will investigate speedily.”
Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have banned imports of ready-to-eat or processed meats such as polony and sausages from South Africa over the listeriosis outbreak, which the health minister said last weekend had been traced to a facility owned by food giant Tiger Brands.
The company has recalled processed ready-to-eat meats produced by its Enterprise unit, although its chief executive said there was no direct link between the deaths of more than 180 people who tested positive for listeria and its products.
The poultry association said the department of agriculture had been slow in implementing a listeria test protocol for imported MDM.
“We understand that this was only concluded with meat importers last week. When it is implemented, it will be a step forward in protecting South African consumers, but it should have happened long ago,” it said.
“It is time that imported meat and poultry products are held to the same standards as locally produced products.”