Lis­te­rio­sis: Meat sec­tor bleeds

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Bheki Mban­jwa

SOUTH Africa’s pro­cessed meat in­dus­try has shed about 2 000 jobs while bleed­ing R800 mil­lion monthly as safety con­cerns fol­low­ing the out­break of lis­te­rio­sis sent the prices and de­mand for ready-to-eat meats tum­bling.

This is ac­cord­ing to the South African Meat Pro­ces­sors As­so­ci­a­tion (Sampa), which said of the 2 000 jobs lost, 700 were in KwaZulu-Na­tal.

The job losses suf­fered by work­ers in the meat-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try come as the coun­try con­tin­ues to bat­tle un­em­ploy­ment.

The recently re­leased quar­terly labour sur­vey showed that the un­em­ploy­ment rate (26.7%) re­mained un­changed over the first quar­ter of this year com­pared with the fourth quar­ter of last year.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate was high­est among the youth (ages 15-34) as it stood at 38.2%.

The as­so­ci­a­tion said sales of polony and vi­en­nas had fallen 70% while those of other pro­cessed meat prod­ucts had de­clined 50% since March 4 af­ter Health Min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi an­nounced that ready-to-eat meats were the source of the deadly lis­te­rio­sis dis­ease.

If the sit­u­a­tion per­sisted, Sampa warned, it was bound to have a se­ri­ous knock-on effect on other busi­nesses such as pack­ag­ing, trans­port and spice busi­nesses. They were al­ready los­ing close to R100m a month.

“Small butcheries are also ad­versely af­fected as con­sumers are no longer buy­ing pro­cessed meat,” said Arnold Prinsloo, act­ing Sampa chair­per­son.

Meat pro­ces­sors warned of more job losses if the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ued.

Prinsloo said pig farm­ers were among the worst af­fected. “Should the sit­u­a­tion con­tinue, farm­ers will sell at a loss and small farm­ers will lose their farms. The knock-on effect will fur­ther cre­ate a pork short­age in the next 12 to 18 months.

“This short­age in sup­ply will push up pork prices to an es­ti­mated price of R30 per kilo­gram,” he said.

The as­so­ci­a­tion said there was a huge re­duc­tion in the de­mand for pork and this led to a drop in pig prices from R26 a kilo­gram to R16 a kilo­gram.

Wal­ter Frey, owner of Trigga and Frey’s Food Brands, said the sit­u­a­tion was dire, adding that upand-com­ing pig farm­ers were on the verge of clos­ing down.

“Smaller and vul­ner­a­ble farm­ers would prob­a­bly only last two to three months at cur­rent pric­ing lev­els, as­sum­ing they were able to even sell their pigs,” he said.

Frey be­lieved the full re­cov­ery of the pork in­dus­try would take many years.

Dawie Ma­ree, of FNB Agri­cul­ture, said the loss would be felt greatly by small farm­ers who did not have the cush­ion en­joyed by big op­er­a­tors.

He said while the en­tire pork in­dus­try value chain had suf­fered an es­ti­mated R1bn in losses, this would not have much im­pact on the coun­try’s agri­cul­ture econ­omy as the in­dus­try was very small.

Pork prices had fallen about 40% since the lis­te­rio­sis out­break an­nounce­ment, but this also meant that pork had be­come more af­ford­able and had thus cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity to in­crease pork con­sump­tion, he said.

“The de­cline in the price of pork is mainly be­cause pork is as­so­ci­ated with polony, when in fact polony only con­sists of about 2% pork.

“The re­cov­ery will de­pend on ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic and chang­ing the per­cep­tion about pork.

“I know that the South African Pork Pro­duc­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion has em­barked on a big drive,” Ma­ree said.

Frey said pig farm­ers were in need of sup­port whether it came from govern­ment or the pri­vate sec­tor.

He recently pledged R100m that would guar­an­tee a floor price of R20 a kilo­gram for pig farm­ers on an on­line trad­ing plat­form that con­nected buy­ers and sell­ers of pork.

“The Trigga plat­form has man­aged to re­dis­tribute de­mand to find a mar­ket for all sur­plus pigs avail­able, al­beit at R5 per kilo­gram below the cost of pro­duc­tion and the guar­an­teed price mech­a­nism put in place by Trigga to keep the most vul­ner­a­ble farm­ers in busi­ness.”

He es­ti­mated that the cur­rent cir­cum­stances could last six months and that a guar­an­tee of R20/kg would be suf­fi­cient to keep pig farm­ers afloat.

“Sadly, we’re get­ting to a point now that it’s no longer just about the price. It’s now also about help­ing farm­ers find a home for their prod­uct,” Frey said

Prinsloo said the in­dus­try was un­der­tak­ing var­i­ous mea­sures to en­sure the safety of prod­ucts pro­duced by its mem­bers. “It (is) ev­i­dent that food safety needs to be ad­dressed in South Africa over­all.

“Stake­hold­ers and par­ties need to col­lab­o­rate to ad­dress this is­sue, given its in­her­ent com­plex­ity and un­der­stand­ing the far-reach­ing im­pacts. Food safety is ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity, this in­cludes us as in­dus­try, other food in­dus­tries, re­tail­ers, govern­ment and the pub­lic.”

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