Listeria takes a bite out of trade as countries ban SA's processed meat

Cape Town – The Department of Trade and Industry told a joint sitting of Parliament’s portfolio committee on health and portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries that more than six countries have banned products from South Africa in light of listeriosis concerns.

The bacteria has infected at least a thousand cases around the country last year and at the beginning of March 183 deaths had already been reported. The latest cases have also rocked RCL Foods and Tiger Brands’ Enterprise Foods, whose facilities have been linked with listeria monocytogenes by the Department of Health.

Chief director of international trade and economic development Niki Kruger told Parliament on Wednesday morning that World Trade Organisaton countries under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures were entitled to ban products from a country in light of concerns for infection.

She told the joint sitting that the department knew of eight countries which banned sausage products of meat, offal or blood and six countries which banned prepared or preserved meat, offal and blood products from South Africa.

“We have been exporting $18m or R210m to countries like Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. There are R100m worth of exports in sausages alone that have been affected as a result of countries banning our products,” said Kruger.

Kruger said investigations were ongoing to uncover other forms of listeriosis cases including the ST6 strain found in Tiger Brands’ Pretoria facility.

“For prepared and preserved meat extracts and juices we are aware of six countries that have banned these products. R202m worth of exports are affected by the bans that we are aware of. The long term impact will be higher than what we have indicated here,” Kruger said.

She said while the amount of trade affected by bans of South African products were small in relation to the total value of processed meat trade, the bans were still concerning in light of bans on other products which are not affected by the listeria monocytogene ST6 strain.

“There is a very small percentage of exports that have been affected. But the impact of the perceptions is considerable. Rwanda have not only stopped [the import of] preserved meats but they have stopped importing fruits and vegetables, informed by uncertainty on whether the ST6 strain came from soil,” she said.

Deputy director general of consumer and corporate regulations division Evelyn Masotja said possible class action suits may follow against companies implicated. "We will embark on awareness campaigns to ensure that consumers are protected and made aware of the latest developments.”

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