CPA warns of health risks of imported meat

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. . . advocates for organically produced foods

Bereng Mpaki

THE Consumer Protection Association (CPA) has warned the public on the health risks of consuming imported meat products.

According to CPA Director Lehlohonolo Chefa, meat-importing countries such as Lesotho had no control over what the animals are fed or injected with before slaughter. As a result, Basotho risk consuming genetically-modified meat which is a causative factor for some non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and antibiotics resistance.

Genetically engineered foods are defined by the World Health Organisation as organisms, such as plants, animals or microorganisms, in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.

Although NCDs are non-infectious, they are deadly. These include cancer, kidney disease, and hypertension among others.

The warning comes amid the arrival into the South African market of the first shipment of chicken imported from the United States under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade arrangement in February this year.

Director of CPA who is also a social activist, Mr Lehlohonolo Chefa

Director of CPA who is also a social activist, Mr Lehlohonolo Chefa

Mr Chefa said with Lesotho being a net importer of chickens, there was a high likelihood that the American chicken would find its way into the country.

“Given that South Africa and other Southern African Customs Union countries don’t have control on how foods they import are produced in industrialised countries, consumers risk being exposed to genetically-modified foods such as chickens and beef overdosed with antibiotics,” he said in an interview this week.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health today. Around half of the antibiotics produced globally are used in agriculture, with much of this being used to make animals grow faster and to prevent rather than treat disease.

“Along with addressing over consumption of antibiotics in human medicine and promoting the development of new drugs, changes in farming practices are urgently needed.”

Mr Chefa said the impact of consuming meat injected with antibiotics had far reaching health implications that had the potential of rendering the use of antibiotics in human medical treatment null and void.

He said antibiotic resistant genes from genetically-modified foods were taken up by bacteria in the gut during digestion. If bacteria carrying antibiotic resistance genes were ever to cause infection, it would be very difficult for doctors to treat.

“Let’s stop serving meat from animals routinely given antibiotics used in human medicine by buying organically produced meat. In that way, we are less likely to have bodies that are resistant to antibiotics,” said Mr Chefa.

The health risks posed by imported meat products, he said, should inspire local farmers to create a niche of organically produced meat.   Organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, sewage sludge, genetically-modified organisms, or ionising radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.

“The dangers inherent in imported meat are a golden opportunity for local farmers to organically produce such meat products as chicken in large quantities,” the CPA director noted.

“However, producers of animal feeds should desist from adding antibiotics in their ingredients.”

He said the government had a role to play in protecting consumers from the risks posed by genetically-modified foods.

“The ministries of Health, Agriculture and Food Security as well as Trade and Industry need to work together to ensure they protect Basotho,” Mr Chefa said.

“If there is no action taken to ascertain what is being eaten by the populace, the country will be faced with a problem of citizens who cannot be treated for basic illnesses that antibiotics used to treat.

“Unfortunately, there is no incentive for pharmaceutical corporations to develop new antibiotics. This simply means that the rate at which people will die from diseases that were treated in the 20th century will increase.”

Instead of the government continuing to subsidise grain production, he proposes that the funds be channelled towards the production of organic meat products, fruits and vegetables.

“They should use the funds budgeted for subsidising grain production towards producing chickens, eggs, crops and fruits organically for purposes of consumption and exporting to other countries,” said Mr Chefa.

“We don’t have a comparative advantage over countries with vast arable land when it comes to the production of grain. This is precisely the reason for the declining contribution of the agriculture sector to gross domestic product.”

He added: “Once we move away from grain production, we will see agriculture becoming the economic driver in Lesotho. Such a move would be in line with the NSDP (National Strategic Development Plan) and will create employment opportunities as well as creating linkages within the economy.

“We cannot impose barriers to trade but we can use tools of trade and education to influence consumer choice both locally and abroad. This calls for greater collaboration between consumers, farmers, the private sector and government.”

The Ministry of Health’s Programmes Manager of the Food Safety division, Motsamai Mahahabisa, said some emerging health concerns were no longer covered under the Public Health Order of 1970.

He said the government of Lesotho, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, was currently developing a food safety policy meant to address the new health challenges.

“The other challenge we have with regards to food safety is fragmentation whereby there are different authorities dealing with food safety issues,” Mr Mahahabisa told the Lesotho Times this week. “So, the policy will try to bring all these departments together for easier coordination.”

The Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing’s Information Officer Retšelisitsoe Sekake said their marketing department was responsible for regulating food imports to protect the domestic industry.

“This is done by issuing import permits to domestic entrepreneurs who wish to import meat,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Agriculture were not successful at the time of going to print.

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