Cape Town - South African meat consumers have nothing to fear from a horsemeat scandal currently rocking Europe.
An industry expert told Fin24 on Wednesday the local meat industry is well regulated and both imported and exported meats are subject to stringent tests.
"Meat imported to South Africa may only come from countries with which our veterinary authorities have agreed a health certificate.
"Our vets also need to approve all overseas plants from which the imports are sourced.
"In addition there are very stringent veterinary health tests that are undertaken in SA," said David Wolpert, the CEO of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of SA.
With regard to imported processed meat, Wolpert said that it "forms a tiny percentage of total meat imports into SA".
The Department of Agriculture echoed Wolpert's views and said chances are slim that horsemeat disguised as beef could have slipped through South African import controls.
"It is unlikely that South African importers could have unknowingly imported animal products contaminated with horsemeat, as imports are usually properly certified by the veterinary authorities of the country of origin," it said in a statement on Wednesday.
According to the department veterinary authorities currently allowed importation of recognisable cuts of beef from Germany, Ireland, UK, Spain, Switzerland, and veal from the Netherlands.
There were no talks of an outright ban on European meat.
In December last year, South Africa joined China and Japan in suspending imports of Brazilian beef over an atypical case of mad cow disease.
The department said that horsemeat is imported from Brazil and Belgium and that the country had a small market for horsemeat. There were at present only three privately-owned abattoirs approved for the slaughter of horses.
"It is neither unsafe nor illegal to consume or sell horsemeat in terms of legislation. The meat is inspected and passed by qualified meat inspectors."
Horsemeat is also used in various animal products.
Europe has in the past few weeks been rocked by a scandal involving horsemeat falsely sold as beef. Authorities are still scrambling to identify the source of the suspected fraud.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the European Union's health chief have placed all companies that have handled falsely-labelled horsemeat under suspicion and added that the European Commission was considering strengthening EU rules on product labelling.
The Commission said it was also studying the option of introducing country-of-origin labels on processed meat products, although officials have said privately that the complexity of supply chains would make this next to impossible to implement.
Ministers from the worst-affected nations will meet in Brussels later on Wednesday to discuss their response to the scandal, which erupted after tests showed products labelled as beef contained up to 100% horsemeat.
On January 15 routine tests by Ireland's Food Safety Authority found horsemeat in frozen beef burgers produced by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer.
Two days later, Irish meat processor Silvercrest Foods recalled 10 million burgers from supermarkets across Ireland and Britain amid fears that many could contain horsemeat.
Authorities have meanwhile said there is no risk to public health from the tainted foods. But the incident has caused revulsion in Britain, where many view the idea of eating horsemeat with distaste, and raised concerns over the safety of Europe's intricate food supply chains.
- Fin24, Sapa, Reuters