Concern mounts as new law will allow less meat in products
Cape Town - Before May 2019, consumers could be assured of the composition of the meat products they were buying, in line with definitions laid down in legislation.
Not anymore. Under then-minister Aaron Motsoaledi, in May 2019 the Department of Health repealed the regulations governing processed meats requiring a minimum meat content in manufactured meat products.
The move, which came after the outbreak of listeriosis in 2018, according to industry players, was taken without any prior consultation.
Now South Africa is the only country in the world with no legislation defining what can be sold as meat.
With new legislation coming into effect in April that will reduce the protein content of “meat” products by 20%, some industry players voiced concern that this could hit the poor who would be paying the same price for less nutrition.
In the absence of legislation, some retailers are selling beef mince containing 60% to 75% meat.
Until May the South African meat industry abided by regulations that were first published in 1930, and formed the backbone of all other regulations and permitted additives.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it would enact new meat legislation next month which would see a reduction in the content of animal protein used in processed meats from 75% to 60% in one category and from 95% to 90% in another.
Stellenbosch farmer Angus McIntosh said: “This news is appalling. The government has a responsibility to feed the people. With no laws in place, meat producers can add as little animal protein and as much water and chemicals as they want into their finished products. And what for? Money. This will only contribute more to the health crisis that the poor already face.”
South Africa is ranked the unhealthiest country in the world - according to the Indigo Wellness index, one of the global health indices.
Industrial meat scientist Dr Francois Mellett said the new regulations would not cover raw meat products, such as minced or ground meat, which had to be pure meat for 90 years until May.
“We have seen much abuse of the term ground beef since then, with soya and other fillers added to a product, driven by the ingredient suppliers. Lean beef currently costs R63 a kilogram, while re-hydrated textured soya costs R4.75. The motive is clear, to mix the two and sell it at R50 a kilogram.”
The new regulations will also cover meat products such as polony, Russian sausages and other processed meats which will have to contain only 15% lean meat.
He said after the ban on adding nutrients to chicken, most consumers changed to polony and canned fish.
“But expect water and more water and less nutrition,” he warned.
Polony may now contain non-meat products such as gelatin, insect protein, algal protein, milk protein, soya protein, wheat protein, fish protein, crustaceans protein, provided that where these are allergens they are indicated as such on the packaging.
“The result for the poor is devastating - buying something that looks like meat, but with reduced nutritional value and all kinds of cheaper proteins made to look like meat and sold at meat prices. These consumers can buy their own soya, wheat, milk and insect protein much cheaper if they desire to eat these,” Mellet added.
Chief executive of the Red Meat Producers Organisation Gerhard Schutte said his organisation welcomed the new regulations.