The memory is all too clear in my mind. Our road trip to Boston was drawing to a close and just prior to us reaching our destination, we decided to stop for a bite to eat. A unanimous favourite in the group was Chipotle so we took the nearest off-ramp and tucked into chicken, beef, beans and guacamole, all wrapped up in giant tortillas. This wasn’t the only time we had Chipotle, or other fast food for that matter, so hearing about the fast food chain’s recent demise has been particularly concerning. On 8 February (three weeks from today), the chain will close all of its branches for the day and address the food safety concerns that have beleaguered the fast food joints for the last few months. Over 500 food poisoning cases have been reported and these have ranged from the innocuous yet embarrassing diarrhoea to the far more serious E. coli bacteria.
And yet, this is not the first time that there have been food poisoning outbreaks in the United States. There were the Jack in the Box infections of 1993, where 732 people were infected, 178 other victims were left with kidney and brain damage and four children died. So much for a ‘Happy Meal’, eh? And who could forget that episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 where the queen of talk denounced beef burgers, sparking a sharp decline in the price of beef around the United States, this as a result of mad cow disease infections. The examples are numerous, frequent and global – you will find more of them
Which brings me to AGOA. Formally known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, this piece of legislation seeks to ‘assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and to improve economic relations between the United States and the region’. You would’ve heard about the Act recently after our own country’s involvement was on the proverbial fence, after US chicken was denied entry for not meeting the relevant safety standards that the Department of Trade and Industry has in place. Essentially, if we won’t buy, they won’t buy… which has a rather large impact on our own export market. In 2015, South Africa and the United States traded to the tune of R217 billion – no amount to sneeze at, especially in light of our ailing economy. What’s also important to note is that trade enters the US quota and duty-free.
Now I’m the first to criticise government when it comes to this kind of stuff. I’m their harshest critic, but even in this instance I find myself eating salmonella-free humble pie. Government has done their ‘due diligence’ and appears to be ticking all the right boxes so that we South Africans can have infection-free meat. I’m not sure about you, but I quite like the sound of that. To refer back to our American experience, the chicken pieces we saw there were genetically enhanced second to none. The last time I saw such bloated and unhealthy breasts, they sat perched on the chest of a Hep-C infected Pamela Anderson and I for one, didn’t fancy chicken (or lady parts for that matter) with that level of genetic enhancement.
Of course I’m not saying South African meat is perfect, but when was the last time you recall a serious food poisoning outbreak that resulted in death? Sure, we’ve all had a bad plate of prawns or a dodgy 2:00am shwarma but really, the quality of food in this country is good, which is why government deserves a pat on the back for safeguarding this hallmark we enjoy.
But let’s examine AGOA. In the first instance, can you think of a reason why government would NOT want to trade with the US? I can’t. The Yanks are literally gifting us with a trade opportunity and for government to refuse that is illogical in light of the other disasters that have irked the administration of late (Nenegate, SAA, nuclear deal, #FeesMustFall: take your pick). So yes, I truly believe they wanted to make the trade deal work, but refused to sacrifice food safety for it.
Secondly, AGOA is controversial as it is. We all know that Africa is a powerhouse of minerals – that is undeniable. So does it not make sense (albeit nefarious), for the US to barter (read: dump) their 65000 tons of dodgy chicken on our shores in return for our textiles, steel, flowers, wine, cars and car parts? Nigeria, along with South Africa has historically been the biggest AGOA partner and what a pleasure; Nigeria has oil! To take a hyper-critical view: is the US not junking its second rate products into ‘poor-old-Africa’, under the guise of ‘growth and opportunity’, in return for our continent’s otherwise inaccessible raw materials? For me, it’s become increasingly difficult for me not to see it like that.
Now that AGOA is back on the table for us, I sincerely hope that Rob Davies and company have not unbuckled their pants and bent over for the US. South Africans deserve good food, safe food, and have received that up to now – largely as a result of the dti (Department of Trade and Industry). We don’t want beef with the US but we need to ensure healthy citizens. We don’t want to cry foul but at the same time, can’t be chickens and not stand up to the world’s superpower. We need that foreign exchange now more than ever but what we don’t need is salmonella, E. coli and the host of other sketchy bacteria that tainted, imported meat products bring.
– The Kraken for