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Double standards for food safety put lives at risk

The standards of processing and labelling for locally produced chicken are higher than for imported chicken. This is a double standard that is harmful to consumers, especially those from lower income households. It is also a double standard that allows importers to boost their profit margins at the expense of traceability and food safety standards.


Here’s the thing: South African packing and labelling regulations demand that the content of a pack of locally produced chicken is clearly identified, for example, fresh means the meat was never frozen. The same regulations demand labels so detailed that, in the event of contamination, the chicken can be traced back to the farm that produced it and the feed it was fed.


The same requirements do not apply to imported chicken. One of the main differences is that imported chicken is allowed into the country in bulk packs, with no clear origin. This results in imported chicken often labelled vaguely as coming from any one of several countries.


Not only do these bulk packs avoid the detailed labelling and traceability required of South African producers, they flaunt food safety standards as they are thawed and broken up into smaller packs for distribution in the local market. Thawing and handling introduce health risks and, while major companies take great care to minimise these dangers, some smaller or unscrupulous operators are less hygienic, putting public safety at risk.


Recent health crises both in South Africa and Brazil, such as listeriosis illustrate the vital importance of traceability that is absent from imports, especially those from Brazil. When Food safety can be a matter of life and death, full compliance with robust procedures should never be an option.


Recently, one of Brazil’s biggest state supported food producers recalled almost 500 tons of chicken due to salmonella contamination worries and last year the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa was the largest ever in the world, according to the World Health Organisation and caused the deaths of more than 180 people.


Any government concerned about the health and wellbeing of its population should waste no time to institute – and enforce – strict food safety measures.


Legislated labelling standards would be an effective non-tariff barrier that protect public health and regulate wanton dumping.


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