The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters is challenging the insistence on systematic testing of meat at the Durban harbour, as opposed to random tests. It has taken its fight to the Pretoria High Court. Picture: Transnet
THE government’s policy of testing all consignments of unprocessed and raw meat that enter through the port of Durban for contamination is expected to be challenged in court.
The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters says it is causing more harm than good.
The association’s David Wolpert said in papers before the Pretoria High Court that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries did not have the capacity for systematic testing.
Apart from this, he said, there was no need to test all raw meat that entered the country through Durban. Testing was compulsory to ensure that imported unprocessed raw meat complied with import requirements.
He said that before May 2016, randomised sampling and bacteriological testing was done in compliance with South Africa’s international trade obligations. In terms of the Meat Safety Act, the department was empowered to prescribe how meat testing should be undertaken, including its frequency and scope.
The association would ask the court to set aside the department’s implementation of systematic across-the-board testing on all consignments of imported meat entering the Durban port.
It wanted an order directing the department to revert to randomised sampling or directing it to release the tests results within seven days of testing. At present, it could take up to two months before a consignment of meat was released, due to delayed test results, Wolpert said.
He wanted the systematic testing set aside, pending the finalisation of the department’s veterinary procedural notice on how to deal with the testing of the meat in future.
South Africa is bound to the World Trade Organisation’s policies regarding food safety, especially to monitor imported pests and diseases, including salmonella in chicken. According to its guidelines, randomised or targeted sampling was appropriate, it was stated.  
Wolpert said that for years before May last year, this method was followed without any problems. It was still followed at other ports in the country, and Durban port was the only one where all consignments were tested.
“The consequences are that the increased levels of microbiological testing have resulted in a 1 000% increase in samples that have to be taken, transported and tested.”
Wolpert said the department had not provided any scientific justification or data for the increased testing and it was not necessary to protect human life. The department also did not have the capacity to handle the increased workload and the result was that it was unable to comply with set procedures for testing.
A lack of human resources, not enough apparatus and materials to collect samples, lack of adequately trained people at the port and the use of unrefrigerated vehicles to transport the samples were among the reasons cited as to why the department could not do safe and accurate testing.
“Equipment is being re-used by those collecting samples... leading to cross-contamination of samples,” Wolpert said.
Inadequately trained personnel testing the samples led to results being compromised. Employees of cold stores who had no official training were harvesting samples, he added.
In some instances, samples were being transported in a bakkie with a canopy, but without refrigeration. A lack of trained staff and cross-contamination of samples also led to their testing positive for organisms such as salmonella, when they were, in fact, not contaminated, he noted.
All of this could have catastrophic consequences for meat importers and exporters.
The association said its members also experienced massive delays between samples being collected and test results being released.
The court removed the application from the roll as the department and other roleplayers had yet to file opposing papers. They were given until January 22.