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Durban - In the wake of the Brazilian meat scandal this week, in which two of the biggest meat producers in Brazil, JBS and BRF, were implicated, South Africans are worried about the safety of Brazilian meat exports to South Africa.

Some meat producers in Brazil were accused of bribing Brazilian inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.

According to the latest information from the South African Poultry Association (Sapa), poultry imports for the 2016 year totalled 560155 tons and Brazil was the main contributor in 2016, accounting for 41.7 percent or 233787 tons.

Brazil has also dominated the poultry imports since the year started. Poultry imports from Brazil totalled 21027 tons in January 2017, representing 56.3 percent of total poultry imports in volume terms, with import value of R192.6 million.

Paul Makube, senior agricultural economist at FNB, said the investigation in Brazil had been going for a year or two now. “My understanding is that we are also testing these imports when they land in our shores. But the other question is, have those consignments that are found to have been tampered with the dates reached our shores? We should be tightening our health protocols and do our own inspections when they reach our shores,” he said.

South African poultry producers said in response to the scandal that the country could not afford to leave food safety measures at the hands of the exporters alone.

Read also: Brazil firms probed over bribery at meatpacking facilities

They want South African health authorities to visit countries that export food to South Africa, especially Brazil, since that country is the biggest meat exporter to South Africa.

Marthinus Stander, chief executive of Country Bird, said South Africa needed food safety and quality system audits and independent verification of process and standards at source, at least on par with standards adhered to by local producers.

“We also need to prevent selling on as ‘fresh’, or re-packing by importers. Products should be packed and labelled correctly at source, with a specific customer and destination in mind. This will allow traceability, should a health challenge occur,” said Stander.

Kevin Lovell, chief executive of Sapa, agreed with Stander. “The best way is to do what the US and EU do and to visit exporting countries on a regular basis, to inspect individual abattoirs before certifying and to have a strong risk analysis capacity within the government,” said Lovell. He added that there were more than 1200 abattoirs registered to export to South Africa.

“To our knowledge the Daff has never visited any of these abattoirs and have certified them on the basis of assurances from the veterinary authorities of the exporting country. By contrast there are around 200 abattoirs registered in South Africa, of which about 20 supply more than 80percent of all the local meat. Local abattoirs have regular inspections,” he said. But David Wolpert, chief executive of Association for Meat Importers and Exporters of South Africa, said South Africa did not rely solely on meat testing at source.

Attempts to get response from department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) were unsuccessful.