Horsemeat hypocrisy

07 March 2013

PEOPLE who live in glass houses shouldn’t eat horsemeat. That is probably what many Namibian farmers feel about the ‘horsemeat sold as beef’ scandal that has rocked Europe. Not that there is anything wrong with eating horsemeat, but to the contrary many cultures around the world consider horsemeat – particularly smoked horsemeat – a rare delicacy.


However, if the European Union had a proper livestock traceability system in place how could this ever have happened?

If the EU had serious food safety controls, how could horsemeat ever have entered the beef food chain without the people responsible for such matters detecting it immediately?

Europeans usually feign great concern about food safety standards, but given the horsemeat scandal one can only conclude that their concern is somewhat disingenuous.

The EU has imposed a stringent livestock identification and traceability (NamLITS) system on Namibia as a condition for allowing the country to export red meat to Europe.

The system aims at managing animal disease surveillance programmes, controlling animal disease emergencies and validating animal health status claims and meat safety guarantees.

In addition, it verifies the Farm Assured Namibian Meat (FAN Meat) quality assurance scheme with the overall objective of facilitating regional and international trade.

Local farmers often complain about the onerous requirements of this system and the heavy burden of paperwork needed to comply.

It irritates farmers that they have to spend so much of their time navigating through the maze of red tape instead of on critical day-to-day farm operations.

Their biggest complaint however, is about the lack of certainty and predictability surrounding the regulations.

The EU constantly keeps changing the goal posts to the extent that Namibian farmers have become exasperated and even slightly disenchanted with the whole business.

Some have even decided to cease livestock farming altogether because of the incredible amount of red tape involved.

One day they will tell you you need to fill in these forms, keep these records and buy this particular type of high-priced ear tag for your livestock.

The next day everything has suddenly changed and you now have to fill in different forms, keep different records and replace all the expensive ear tags you have bought with the latest new fangled devices.

With a price of over N$16-00 each, the ear tags do not come cheap. If you have for example, 500 cattle the cost of ear tags alone comes to N$8,000 plus.

This comes top of all the other high input costs involved in livestock farming like maintaining farm infrastructure, debt servicing, lick and feed, vaccines and ever-rising labour costs.

The high input costs generally make farming a marginal business at best.

Our abattoirs have invested tens of millions of dollars to bring their plants up to EU export standards.

Because of falling livestock numbers, they often struggle to recoup the huge investments they have made.

However, we shouldn’t complain too much, because the high standards we strive to maintain can only benefit us in the end.

We know that as a country we produce among the best and healthiest beef in the world while maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare.

It does not hurt to let the rest of the world know what we already know by enforcing transparent and verifiable controls.

No one would be able to sell horsemeat as beef at one of our export abattoirs even if they tried.

We do not put our animals through the ordeal of factory production systems such as keeping them indoors year-round, feeding them artificial diets and subjecting them to high stress levels.

There should not be double standards, and if the Europeans impose certain rules and regulations on us, they should stop acting like hypocrites and practise what they preach.

The horsemeat scandal suggests that the EU does not act in good faith in relation to Namibia.

Where is the EU’s own livestock identification and traceability system? Concern for food safety clearly does not always motivate some of the burdensome conditions the Europeans impose on Namibian farmers.

They often use this multitude of rules as non-tariff trade barriers to protect their own inefficient producers and markets.

The mere fact that European traders felt the need to carry out fraudulent acts such as passing off horsemeat as beef points to the fact that EU produced beef is over-priced.

Namibian farmers have a comparative advantage when it comes to livestock production,

They can produce meat cheaper and more efficiently than European farmers can.

Therefore, it is unjust that the EU tries to hobble our farmers with illegal non-tariff trade barriers.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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