Lack of state vets poses health threat
Pietermaritzburg - The failure of the government to fill vacant posts of state veterinarians could put beef consumers at risk of infected red meat that can cause severe diarrhoea, kidney failure and even death.
A report by the Red Meat Industry Forum states that close to 40% of state veterinarians’ positions are vacant.
This has created policing problems as many meat producers cutting corners are not likely to get caught.
State vets play an important role in ensuring that abattoirs are complying with the law and that the meat production process is of acceptable standards.
Gareth Lloyd-Jones, managing director of Ecowize, a hygiene and sanitation company serving the food sector, said the fact that 37% of state vets’ posts are unfilled poses a challenge for the red meat industry.
“The veterinarians fulfil a policing role under the law.
“They have the powers to shut down any operation that is not adhering to the required standards. With the current situation, there is not much policing being done.”
He said many unscrupulous abattoir operators could take a chance and supply sub-standard products to the market, which would not only compromise the whole red meat industry, but could expose consumers to contaminated meat.
“While generally people do not get sick from consuming low-quality beef, they will get sick if that beef is contaminated.”
Lloyd-Jones said that depending on the type of bacteria, infected meat can cause a variety of illnesses that could result in death if it is not treated appropriately.
He also criticised the government’s failure to establish a food control agency to regulate imports and exports of meat.
“Cheap, low-quality meats are currently being imported without rigorous inspections or policing as no government intervention exists and this is a necessary gatekeeper in enforcing stringent food security protocol at our borders.”
Steve Galane, the spokesperson for the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, conceded that there is a shortage of veterinarians.
“That has been put on the scarce skills list and we are busy trying to recruit,” he said.