Chicken Industry

Meat testing not strict

David Wolpert stretches the truth on food safety tests for imported chicken and other meats (Imports stringently tested, June 25). On behalf of importers, he implies that all foreign abattoirs are inspected and that every imported consignment is tested by our health authorities. Readers are left to believe that no contaminated meat would ever be imported, and if it did happen, it would never reach our shops and consumers.

Would that it were so. Wolpert must know that our hard-pressed testing teams are overworked and understaffed. His “extensive investigation of the exporting country’s plants, facilities and products” is often no more than approval of a certificate produced by the exporters. Most foreign plants have never been visited. His “extensively checked” poultry imports are samplings – a big container can hold 27 tonnes of frozen chicken. When the authorities stepped up their testing in Durban earlier in 2018, Wolpert and his fellow importers took them to court.

Instead of defending an underfunded and therefore inefficient testing regime, Wolpert should be fighting for greater safety for our consumers. He should be fighting for importers to be subjected to the same rules as local producers.

For local production there is farm testing, plant testing (both environmental and product) and shelf testing. There is a record of all testing. In the event of contamination, health authorities can trace a product back to the farm, and sometimes to the chicken house it came from. Imported product can be sold here as potentially coming from nine countries on three continents, making traceability difficult, if not impossible.

In addition to deficiencies in labelling requirements for imported product, there are very worrying health risks in thawing and repackaging of frozen bulk imports. Everything is not fine, Mr Wolpert, and consumers would be safer if you would admit it.

Francois Baird