Tons of water buffalo meat from Asia was smuggled into South Africa last year – just one such shipment organised by crime syndicates which are flooding our market with cheap and potentially hazardous meat.
A confidential 2012 police crime intelligence report, a copy of which City Press has seen, reveals how these syndicates flourish because of porous borders, inadequate controls and local meat shortages.
The crime intelligence report says the syndicates are also involved in money laundering, bribery and, in some cases, narcotics and trafficking.
The report was compiled after South Africa’s red meat industry bodies apparently warned authorities that water buffalo meat was being smuggled into the country.
The report, called “Criminal syndicates and the meat market”, reveals that an Interpol investigation has found South Africans are members of syndicates that smuggle meat from Asia, South America and our neighbouring states into the country.
The quality and content of South Africa’s meat was thrust into the spotlight this week in the wake of a Stellenbosch University report titled “A high incidence of species substitution and mislabelling detected in meat products sold in South Africa”.
The report, published in an international journal, revealed that water buffalo, donkey and goat were present in 68% of the meat products tested by the Stellenbosch researchers.
Water buffalo was discovered in a number of meat products and was used as a substitute for beef in mince. It was also added to burger patties and sausages, the researchers found.
It is not illegal to sell water buffalo meat in South Africa.
But only small amounts of the meat are legally imported.
The police’s report was also sparked by a November 2011 meat scandal when a well-known meat supplier, Cape Town’s Orion Cold Storage, was exposed for relabelling pork products as halaal.
Orion was also accused of importing water buffalo meat from India and selling it as beef.
The police’s report says water buffalo products are cheaply available in Pakistan and India – where there are around 80 million of these animals – but the meat is uncertified and not safe.
Foot and mouth disease is among the concerns.
The produce is frozen in Asia before being shipped to ports like Durban or Maputo.
The report doesn’t indicate if any police probe is under way into the illegal meat trade, and police had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.
The chairperson of the Red Meat Industry Forum, Dave Ford, said he did not know the extent of the criminal importation of meat.