Beef products imported from Europe and distributed in Zambia by leading meat company Zambeef have tested positive for aromatic aldehyde, a chemical which can cause cancer.

Durban - Hundreds of tons of water buffalo, donkey and horse meat imported from India and Brazil pose significant risk to South Africa.

That’s according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, in response to parliamentary questions on Friday.

Joemat-Pettersson was responding to a question posed by the DA about meat imports, following the recent meat-labelling scandal which revealed certain retailers had sold water buffalo, donkey and horse meat in sausages, burger patties and other meat products, without including the ingredients on package labels.

“In terms of animal disease risk, the two countries mentioned (Brazil and India) have been closely evaluated as imposing significant risk as far as South Africa is concerned,” Joemat-Pettersson said.

According to the department, South Africa’s Brazilian meat imports included 61 tons of horse meat in 2011, 150 tons in 2012 and 49.8 tons this year. More than 460 tons of poultry and 45.5 tons of beef were imported from Brazil from 2011 to 2012.

She said the department was no longer issuing veterinary import permits for beef from Brazil, while it was “evaluating the response received from the chief veterinary officer of Brazil”.

South Africa imported 1 175 tons of water buffalo from India in 2011 until imports were suspended in May, 2011.

Joematt-Pettersson said that because of the risk, the evaluation of meat import permits from both countries was based on the Animal Diseases Act of 1984 and international standards and not the Meat Safety Act of 2000.

However, she declined to disclose the names of importers or give a reason why the department considered meat imports from these countries to be potentially harmful.

“The DA will be submitting an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to determine exactly why this meat is considered hazardous and who the responsible parties are,” DA MP and shadow minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Annette Steyn said.

Association of Meat Importers chief executive David Wolpert said he had “no clue” what the minister was referring to regarding the “significant risk” posed by meat supplies from these countries.

He said beef imports from Brazil had been stopped after “health issues”.

“One of the issues she (the minister) also raised quite strongly was about the amount of poultry that comes from Brazil and there was an insinuation that the poultry was slightly cheaper and of a lower quality. That is absolute nonsense,” Wolpert said.

He said poultry in Brazil went through stringent checks both there and once it arrived in South Africa.

Association for Dietetics in South Africa member and registered dietician Brigitte Leclercq said leaner cuts of meat such as venison, water buffalo, donkey and horse posed no health risk for consumers. However, food items should be labelled according to food labelling regulations under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1972.

Joematt-Pettersson’s spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele and departmental spokeswoman Priscilla Sehoole could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts last night.

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