Con­sumers warned over im­ported meat

Lesotho Times - - Business - Bereng Mpaki

THE Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) has warned the pub­lic on the health risks of con­sum­ing im­ported meat prod­ucts.

Ac­cord­ing to CPA Di­rec­tor Lehlo­honolo Chefa, meat-im­port­ing coun­tries such as Le­sotho had no con­trol over what the an­i­mals are fed or in­jected with be­fore slaugh­ter.

As a re­sult, Ba­sotho risk con­sum­ing ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied meat which is a causative fac­tor for some non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases (NCDS) and an­tibi­otics re­sis­tance.

Ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered foods are de­fined by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion as or­gan­isms, such as plants, an­i­mals or micro­organ­isms, in which the ge­netic ma­te­rial (DNA) has been al­tered in a way that does not oc­cur nat­u­rally by mat­ing and/or nat­u­ral re­com­bi­na­tion.

Al­though NCDS are non-in­fec­tious, they are deadly. These in­clude cancer, kid­ney dis­ease, and hy­per­ten­sion among oth­ers.

The warn­ing comes amid the ar­rival into the South African mar­ket of the first ship­ment of chicken im­ported from the United States un­der the Africa Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) trade ar­range­ment in Fe­bru­ary this year.

Mr Chefa said with Le­sotho be­ing a net im­porter of chick­ens, there was a high like­li­hood that the Amer­i­can chicken would find its way into the coun­try.

“Given that South Africa and other South­ern African Cus­toms Union coun­tries don’t have con­trol on how foods they im­port are pro­duced in in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, con­sumers risk be­ing ex­posed to ge­net­i­cal­ly­mod­i­fied foods such as chick­ens and beef over­dosed with an­tibi­otics,” he said in an in­ter­view this week.

“An­tibi­otic re­sis­tance is one of the big­gest threats to global health today. Around half of the an­tibi­otics pro­duced glob­ally are used in agri­cul­ture, with much of this be­ing used to make an­i­mals grow faster and to pre­vent rather than treat dis­ease.

“Along with ad­dress­ing over con­sump­tion of an­tibi­otics in hu­man medicine and pro­mot­ing the devel­op­ment of new drugs, changes in farm­ing prac­tices are ur­gently needed.”

Mr Chefa said the im­pact of con­sum­ing meat in­jected with an­tibi­otics had far reach­ing health im­pli­ca­tions that had the po­ten­tial of ren­der­ing the use of an­tibi­otics in hu­man med­i­cal treat­ment null and void.

He said an­tibi­otic re­sis­tant genes from ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied foods were taken up by bac­te­ria in the gut dur­ing di­ges­tion. If bac­te­ria car­ry­ing an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance genes were ever to cause in­fec­tion, it would be very dif­fi­cult for doc­tors to treat.

“Let’s stop serv­ing meat from an­i­mals rou­tinely given an­tibi­otics used in hu­man medicine by buy­ing or­gan­i­cally pro­duced meat. In that way, we are less likely to have bod­ies that are re­sis­tant to an­tibi­otics,” said Mr Chefa.

The health risks posed by im­ported meat prod­ucts, he said, should in­spire lo­cal farm­ers to cre­ate a niche of or­gan­i­cally pro­duced meat. Or­ganic foods are grown with­out the use of pes­ti­cides, syn­thetic fer­tilis­ers, sewage sludge, ge­net­i­cal­ly­mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, or ion­is­ing ra­di­a­tion. An­i­mals that pro­duce meat, poul­try, eggs, and dairy prod­ucts do not take an­tibi­otics or growth hormones.

“The dan­gers in­her­ent in im­ported meat are a golden op­por­tu­nity for lo­cal farm­ers to or­gan­i­cally pro­duce such meat prod­ucts as chicken in large quan­ti­ties,” the CPA di­rec­tor noted.

“How­ever, pro­duc­ers of an­i­mal feeds should de­sist from adding an­tibi­otics in their in­gre­di­ents.”

He said the gov­ern­ment had a role to play in pro­tect­ing con­sumers from the risks posed by ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied foods.

“The min­istries of Health, Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity as well as Trade and In­dus­try need to work to­gether to en­sure they pro­tect Ba­sotho,” Mr Chefa said.

“If there is no ac­tion taken to as­cer­tain what is be­ing eaten by the pop­u­lace, the coun­try will be faced with a prob­lem of cit­i­zens who can­not be treated for ba­sic ill­nesses that an­tibi­otics used to treat.

“Un­for­tu­nately, there is no in­cen­tive for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal cor­po­ra­tions to de­velop new an­tibi­otics. This sim­ply means that the rate at which peo­ple will die from dis­eases that were treated in the 20th cen­tury will in­crease.”

In­stead of the gov­ern­ment con­tin­u­ing to sub­sidise grain pro­duc­tion, he pro­poses that the funds be chan­nelled to­wards the pro­duc­tion of or­ganic meat prod­ucts, fruits and veg­eta­bles.

“They should use the funds bud­geted for sub­si­dis­ing grain pro­duc­tion to­wards pro­duc­ing chick­ens, eggs, crops and fruits or­gan­i­cally for pur­poses of con­sump­tion and ex­port­ing to other coun­tries,” said Mr Chefa.

“We don’t have a com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage over coun­tries with vast arable land when it comes to the pro­duc­tion of grain. This is pre­cisely the rea­son for the de­clin­ing con­tri­bu­tion of the agri­cul­ture sec­tor to gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.”

He added: “Once we move away from grain pro­duc­tion, we will see agri­cul­ture be­com­ing the eco­nomic driver in Le­sotho. Such a move would be in line with the NSDP (Na­tional Strate­gic Devel­op­ment Plan) and will cre­ate em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as creat­ing link­ages within the econ­omy.

“We can­not im­pose bar­ri­ers to trade but we can use tools of trade and ed­u­ca­tion to in­flu­ence con­sumer choice both lo­cally and abroad. This calls for greater col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween con­sumers, farm­ers, the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment.”

The Min­istry of Health’s Pro­grammes Man­ager of the Food Safety divi­sion, Mot­samai Ma­ha­habisa, said some emerg­ing health con­cerns were no longer cov­ered un­der the Pub­lic Health Or­der of 1970.

He said the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers, was cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a food safety pol­icy meant to ad­dress the new health chal­lenges.

“The other chal­lenge we have with re­gards to food safety is frag­men­ta­tion whereby there are dif­fer­ent au­thor­i­ties deal­ing with food safety is­sues,” Mr Ma­ha­habisa told the Le­sotho Times this week. “So, the pol­icy will try to bring all these de­part­ments to­gether for eas­ier co­or­di­na­tion.”

The Min­istry of Small Busi­ness Devel­op­ment, Co­op­er­a­tives and Mar­ket­ing’s In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer Retšelisit­soe Sekake said their mar­ket­ing depart­ment was re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing food im­ports to pro­tect the do­mes­tic in­dus­try.

“This is done by is­su­ing im­port per­mits to do­mes­tic en­trepreneurs who wish to im­port meat,” he said.

Ef­forts to get a com­ment from the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture were not suc­cess­ful at the time of go­ing to print.

Given that South Africa and other South­ern African Cus­toms Union coun­tries don’t have con­trol on how foods they im­port are pro­duced in in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, con­sumers risk be­ing ex­posed to ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied foods such as chick­ens and beef over­dosed with an­tibi­otics

Eat­ing gm food can change the ge­netic make-up of your di­ges­tive sys­tem and put you at risk of in­fec­tions that are re­sis­tant to an­tibi­otics.

CPA Di­rec­tor Lehlo­honolo Chefa.

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