Parliament - The agriculture department is failing to support the red meat industry, parliament's agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio committee heard on Tuesday.
The SA Red Meat Industry Forum had tried in vain to meet minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson
and department officials on a number of issues, said Hilton Epstein, SC, in a legal submission on behalf of the forum.
These included the department's failure to ensure the reinstatement of South Africa's foot-and-mouth-free zone status with the World Animal Health Organisation.
Another issue was the failure of the directorate of animal health to comply with and enforce provisions of the Animal Diseases Act in respect of quarantine stations, importation of animals and animal products, and fences and compensation.
There was also a need to formalise South Africa's import policy with other African countries.
"Despite these repeated requests, the minister and the responsible functionaries in the department have failed to meet with the forum on the above-mentioned issues and/or failed to address the above mentioned issues satisfactorily or at all," Epstein said.
"The department is failing to support the red meat industry, which is by far the largest agricultural industry in South Africa."
The relationship between the red meat industries of foreign competitors and their respective governments of countries such as Brazil, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, was markedly different, he said.
These issues were of a serious nature and impacted directly upon the entire red meat industry and imperilled South Africa's food safety if left unaddressed.
"The issues addressed in this submission make it clear that the minister and the department are failing in their statutory obligations."
They were jeopardising the long-term viability of the red meat industry and the well-being of the South African consumer, said Epstein. The failure by the minister and the department to provide a stable regulatory framework had resulted in, among others, South Africa becoming a net importer of food for the first time in many decades.
The number of job opportunities in the agricultural industry was decreasing, and the sustainability of rural farming was being compromised.
As a first step of reviving and restoring the red meat industry, the current statutory framework needed to be implemented properly by competent administrators.
"Without such proper implementation the industry and the country will continue to suffer the adverse effects of the current status of regulatory decay and ineptitude," Epstein said.
"Those most affected are the many poor South Africans who rely on the government to ensure that healthy, affordable, and consistently available food is provided from farm to fork."