Meat industry blames media, minister and consumers for listeria hysteria
Industry insists that the Tiger Brands factory cannot be the only source of the listeriosis outbreak
The Red Meat Industry Forum and its partner, South Africa Meat Processers Association, have turned their attention to the media and the Health minister for creating hysteria around the listeriosis outbreak – and suggested consumers should take more responsibility.
It said it doubted whether the Tiger Brands Enterprise facility was the only source of the world's largest outbreak of listeria, in a lengthy media statement that “records its concern” over the 183 “lives that have been lost”.
It then speaks about the financial impact its members in the food supply chain are facing due to consumers’ avoidance of processed meat.The comments by the minister encouraging consumers to avoid all processed meats “had a far-reaching and catastrophic impact” on the whole red meat industry, it said.
The industry disputes the cause of the outbreak.
Its suggests the single cause of the outbreak can’t be “so simple” because listeria is a very common bacterium found in water, soil, animal faeces and many foods.
“The Red Meat Industry Forum is therefore of the opinion that there is no single, simple answer as other recent cases in Australia have emanated from the consumption of melons.”
However, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases had used multiple sources of evidence before declaring Tiger Brands Enterprise Factory as the source of the outbreak.
The exactly same genetic strain of listeria monocytogenes bacteria that infected 91% of patients was found in 26 places at the factory, including the polony mixer. More than 85% of the 109 listeria patients interviewed ate polony or processed meat regularly.
Additionally, the strain in Australia that was on rock melons (spanspek) that the forum mentions in its release, is not the same as the one that killed South Africans, the NICD confirmed.
The forum did not answer questions as to why it doesn’t accept the science.
The forum did not co-operate with the Health Department during the outbreak, saying it could not force its members to test for listeria or provide results of industry tests or meat samples for tests.
But it has now demanded to see the tests conducted by the Health Department and the NICD “to determine the exact nature and ambit of the testing conducted”.
Since December 2017, the department asked the association for information on its members’ tests for listeria, Health Department spokesman Popo Maja said in January. Neither the forum nor association would provide lab test results or samples for testing, he said, saying it refused to co-operate.
Additionally in its statement, the forum points fingers back at the consumer.“It is also the responsibility of consumers not to be content themselves, that the only contamination can come from the facilities implicated, but to adopt basic hygienic practices when buying, transporting food home, preparing and storing food to protect their health and to ensure that cross contamination does not occur between cooked and raw products or from human hands and equipment.
“It is therefore imperative that consumers ensure that the meat they purchase is sourced only from registered abattoirs that have an Independent Meat Inspection Service [sic].”
It did not explain how a consumer would know which abattoir the meat they buy comes from or how individual consumers would obtain such inspection records.
The media and the minister’s press statement explaining why Tiger Brands factory is ground zero and that two other plants had listeria bacteria was blamed as being too vague and causing hysteria.
“This lack of detail has resulted in misinformation which is not only detrimental to the consumer, but also the South African Red Meat Industry. In this regard, the average consumer is being led into a listeria hysteria which is having unfortunate consequences for families who rely on processed meat as their source of protein.”
The forum and its partner body the South Africa Meat Processers Association did not respond to requests for further comment.