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No name and shame of meat culprits

Mar 01 2013 16:49
Adiel Ismail

Europe has in the past few weeks been rocked by a scandal involving horsemeat falsely sold as beef. (AFP)

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Cape Town - Despite consumers baying for blood, the food researcher who exposed the meat scandal refuses to name and shame the suppliers, retailers and butchers whose products were tested.

"The focus of our research was not to name and shame, but rather to force corrective action," said Prof Louw Hoffman, co-author of the shocking study that revealed 68% of processed meat products sold in South Africa contained donkey, goat and water buffalo meat.

Hoffman said since the study was conducted in the middle of last year, retailers had already started labelling the products more precisely.

"At the time of the study, the practice of incorrect labelling was widespread. Now retailers and butchers have started labelling correctly and are even sending meat samples for verification."

For the study meat scientists from Stellenbosch University collected samples for testing from retail outlets and butcheries in four provinces, with the Western Cape being exposed as the worst with labelling.

While labelling rules in South Africa were sufficient to keep the problem in check, Hoffman said it's questionable whether it's being adhered to.

What can consumers do?

"They can lay a complaint in store and/or with the Local municipalities Environmental Health practitioner," said Hoffman.

Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies on Thursday tasked the National Consumer Commission (NCC) to further investigate the matter.

The NCC said on Thursday that the probe could include pulling meat off shop shelves for random testing.

However, Hoffman said blitz visits and testing could prove to be too expensive.

"I'm not aware how long it would take to get these products tested, but dependent on the outcome, certain actions will follow," said NCC acting commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed.

He said that companies, businesses, producers, manufacturers and retailers found guilty of non-compliance will be referred to the Consumer Tribunal.

Last week the Consumer Goods Council SA expressed confidence that its major retail and independent suppliers were committed to ethical and legal meat practices.

It however said the report was a timely wake-up call with regard to compliance with food labelling standards.

Dave Ford, chairperson of the Red Meat Industry Forum, which represents the national red meat chain, said it conducted tests on its own meat products.

"[We] use an independent auditing company to do meat inspections nationally at red meat abattoirs, to ensure that [our] meat is safe for the consumer," said Ford.

"Once the meat products leave the abattoir they are under the jurisdiction of the department of health... [which] has sufficient legislation at their disposal to enforce compliance at point of sale".

On Wednesday, the Cape Argus reported that three of the country’s biggest supermarket chains reassured the public that their meats are safe.

Pick n Pay's Tamra Veley told the daily that the retail chain had very strict quality control measures in place, which included supplier warranties, spot checks by their food technologists and spot DNA testing. 

Woolworths also said it was not affected by the latest contamination scandal.

“We have steps in place to ensure the integrity of our food. We work with specific producers who share our values, we specify our product recipes and, for critical raw materials such as meat, we specify which sources our suppliers are allowed to source from.

"To verify the effectiveness of these controls we perform random checks, such as DNA testing," Woolworths said.

Shoprite group chief executive Whitey Basson welcomed the food study.

“We do not believe that any of our suppliers, who are reputable companies, would transgress food standards and labelling regulations," said Basson.

He added that should any of their suppliers be implicated in the study, "Shoprite will penalise them in the strongest terms".

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