PREVENTION: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants more powers to tackle deadly disease outbreaks such as listeriosis.
Cape Town - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has given an undertaking to support families of 180 people killed by listeriosis should they sue companies involved in the outbreak of the food poisoning.

On Thursday, Motsoaledi said he fully supported opposition party calls for the companies implicated in the listeriosis crisis to come and account in Parliament, and that their directors should be prosecuted.

Motsoaledi urged Parliament to amend the constitution to give him powers to appoint environmental health inspectors to regularly monitor shops to prevent such outbreaks.

Speaking in the National Assembly, Motsoaledi said he supported calls by the EFF that those responsible must be prosecuted and come to Parliament and account.

Laws were there to ensure accountability by the companies, Motsoaledi said, adding they would help community members who wanted to sue the companies involved with the necessary information.

He confirmed that there was a shortage of environmental health inspectors.

“We have a serious shortage of environmental health inspectors because that function was given to local government in 1996,” said Motsoaledi.

“It was a mistake for the constitution to give that job to municipalities because they cannot do it,” he said.

Motsoaledi added that municipalities had to do many things including refuse collection, noting that there was a shortage of 3300 environmental health inspectors in the country.

Once Parliament gave him the powers to oversee the inspectors, he would be able to appoint them.

Motsoaledi was backed by chairperson of the portfolio committee on health Lindelwa Dunjwa, who said environmental health inspectors must now fall under the national Department of Health, and not municipalities, to allow the department to employ more inspectors.

Natasha Ntlangwini of the EFF said Rainbow Chicken and Enterprise must come to Parliament and account.

“These people need to be prosecuted.

"It’s time to do your job, Minister, and hold these companies accountable, and Parliament must also hold them accountable,” she said.

Lindy Wilson of the DA accused Motsoaledi of failing to act on time to pick up the disease.

During a media briefing, EFF leader Julius Malema said his party planned to launch a class court action against companies involved in the spread of listeriosis.

He blamed the government and the national Consumer Commission for the “slow place” in containing the spread of the disease.

“The first step should have been to declare a crisis once the source was identified, taking into consideration that ours is the largest outbreak in history,” Malema said.

“Many retail outlets in rural South Africa still have products that are linked to listeriosis, and in a addition, there is no disposal plan. These products may find their way back into circulation.

"Enterprise must take full responsibility for the outbreak and compensate those affected and families of those who died.”

Malema said EFF lawyers would file papers in courts next week against companies involved in producing products linked to the listeriosis outbreak.

The massive recall of cold meats following the outbreak had a negative impact on the country’s thriving small business sector, which was the bread basket for millions of families, particularly in the townships, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said.

The minister was addressing the third Biodiversity Economy Indaba at the East London International Convention Centre on Thursday.

“When we heard about this disease, they spoke about polony.

"As the Minister of Small Business Development the first thing that came to my mind was: Oh my God, the women and men who are selling sandwiches around the corners, this is going to affect them.

"Nobody is going to buy their sandwiches, their kotas (bunny chows sold mainly in townships),” Zulu added.