Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Zambeef removes imported meat

By Mwala Kalaluka, Abigail Chaponda and Allan Mulenga
Sat 22 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

L-r: Zambeef public relations manager Justo Kopulande, chief executive officer Francis Grogan and company secretary Danny Museteka at the company's head office in Lusaka yesterday before a press briefing over allegations of selling contaminated beef - Picture by Manfred Musanshi

ZAMBEEF Products Plc has removed all imported beef products from its outlets countrywide following The Post's revelation that they contain dangerous levels of aromatic aldehydes.

Meanwhile, health officers in March seized Zambeef products from its Kitwe outlets but were released after senior officers from Kitwe City Council interfered to have the products released, according to sources from the Ministry of Health and environmental health office.

And health minister Dr Joseph Kasonde has been asked to issue a ministerial statement to Parliament on Zambeef's importation of beef products that contain aromatic aldehydes.

Addressing a press briefing at the company's head office in Lusaka yesterday, Zambeef Products Plc chief executive officer Francis Grogan described the reports as a smear campaign driven by a disgruntled former employee for financial gain.

"In the light of recent media reports to the effect that there are dangerous levels of Aromatic Aldehydes in our imported beef products, we have immediately recalled all imported beef products from sale from all our outlets country-wide with immediate effect. Only local beef and beef products are currently being sold in all our outlets," he said.

"Zambeef has never and will under no circumstance ever knowingly supply sub-standard products to the public."

Grogan, who personally apologised for the inconvenience the whole issue might have caused Zambeef customers, said for anyone to suggest that the company could risk the health of its consumers for whatever gain would be totally and utterly absurd in the extreme.

"We will engage with, and cooperate fully with, the Ministry of Health concerning this matter, as they further sample and test these products. We hope this time around, we will be made part of the process from start to finish," he said.

"My prayer is that this matter can be resolved in a sober professional manner relying on conclusive scientific evidence. To this effect, we have already sent samples for testing to internationally accredited labs in Germany and South Africa."

Grogan said these imported beef products would remain withdrawn from sale until the matter was fully investigated by the Ministry of Health as the samples that were a subject in the press had been collected, transported and tested to Zambeef's complete exclusion.

"To date, we have not been availed any results whatsoever from this exercise," he said.

"… This whole unfortunate issue has been started by a disgruntled former employee who was bitter at being dismissed last year by the company. He unfortunately threatened that he would harm the company unless he was paid a huge sum of money, which we refused, as we had done absolutely no wrong whatsoever. Instead of paying money to this person, we instead reported the matter to the police, and this person is now before the courts of law. Unfortunately, this very bitter individual is now busy trying to harm the company and, more importantly, he is unnecessarily alarming the public, simply because we refused to pay him money. This is a very sad state of affairs and pains me greatly."

Grogan said in response to follow-up questions, that it would be difficult for him to comment on tests done by the Ministry of Health's Food and Drug Control Laboratory because Zambeef was never part of the process.

"There is actually no doubt whatsoever in my mind that these samples that have been tested were not tested in a fully transparent and professional manner. Going forward the samples that we have just taken ourselves in conjunction with Balmoral and the samples that I have no doubt the Ministry of Health will take, our name will be fully, fully cleared and I mean that," said Grogan as Zambeef public relations manager Justo Kopulande agreed with him.

"In the last 20-22 years that we have been in this business we have never ever, ever had a single problem with any of our products. This is a smear campaign being orchestrated by this character for financial gain. Unfortunately he is playing with people's health and we are not happy about that."

He said the sample tests carried out by the Ministry of Health could not be trusted.

"These samples were taken by an individual at night without our knowledge. I mean, how can you trust those samples? The thing here is, ladies and gentlemen, are you gonna take the word of a disgruntled employee who wants money or of a company like Zambeef, which has been in business for twenty-something years and employs five and half thousand people and has listed on the London Stock Exchange?" Grogan asked.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the products that we are talking about here are perfectly fit for human consumption. I have absolutely nothing to worry about whatsoever… I have been in this business for 30 years, the products we are dealing with are perfect for human consumption."

He asked Zambians not to be too alarmed because the products in question represented only about three per cent of all the products that Zambeef sells in the country.

"So it is a tiny, tiny portion of our total sales. It is a tiny, tiny amount when you bear in mind that these company slaughters over 5,000 cattle and 5,000 pigs every month. These things we are talking about are a drop in the ocean," said Grogan.

And Zambeef head of environment, food safety and technical services Jones Kayawe says the company would through the Central Veterinary Research Institute in Zambia send independent samples of its imported beef products to a respected laboratory in Germany.

He said whilst the Food and Drug Control Laboratory was one of the laboratories that the government had decided to use to test the samples, Zambeef opted to use a German laboratory because it does not want to deal with laboratories that were not accredited.

"The normal procedure would be for the Ministry of Health to avail us those results. As has been stated in the statement we have not been engaged by the Ministry of Health. However, we are making efforts to contact the Ministry of Health to lay our hands on these results," he said.

"The labs that we are dealing with are reputable labs. We have had to make inquiries in the light of this development to find labs that will be respectable in the eyes of the public. We do not want to deal with labs that are not accredited. So we have...in that search we have found a lab in Germany. This lab is actually international, it is not only in Germany. This company has over 180 labs worldwide in more than 35 countries. If you want the name, the lab we are looking at using is Eurofins Scientific."

He said the only authority in Zambia that could handle the Germany-bound samples would be the Central Veterinary Research Institute.

"We are talking about veterinary products and there are protocols that you need to follow when you are sampling veterinary products because you cannot just send veterinary samples without following the necessary protocols. So to help us fulfill the correct procedure we are working with the Central Veterinary Research Institute in Zambia," said Kayawe.

Zambeef executive director Yusuf Koya said the firm believes that the former employee, Gregory Kapasa, was the one behind the smear campaign against the company because he was part of the articles in The Post relating to the aromatic aldehydes issue.

"You have all read The Post article today and reference is made to a gentleman called Mr Kapasa, in that article by The Post," said Koya.
"We are reacting to an article that has appeared today in The Post, which makes reference to a gentleman called Mr Kapasa. We are giving you some background behind this gentleman in term of the history. That is one issue. There isn't a connection but we are reacting to the name."

Dr Kasonde on Thursday said the government was considering legal action against Zambeef after tests carried out by his ministry on some batches of Zambeef beef products confirmed the presence of aromatic aldehyde.

"Now that it has become public knowledge, yes, I confirm that we have tested and confirmed. We are testing further just because we are now at a stage where we may have to seek legal action," he said.

And the Zambia Institute of Environmental Health Copperbelt chapter president Kentzo Mumba said its preliminary examinations conducted on eight Zambeef's imported products have also shown the presence of aromatic aldehyde.

Mumba was on June 3 granted a court order by magistrate Chitundu Chongo to allow inspectors access Zambeef food articles suspected to have been contaminated.

An analysis of eight Zambeef products imported into the country seen by The Post has confirmed the presence of aromatic aldehyde.

And sources said the seizure of Zambeef's products from its Kitwe outlets was reported to the Ministry of Health, but nothing was done until some officers decided to get a court order.

"This Zambeef issue would have not reached this far if people were listening to us. It's like a lot of people were receiving kickbacks. In February, we started investigating and we did find that there was something wrong with Zambeef products. In Kitwe, we seized 116 cartons of beef liver and 44 cartons of kidneys at the Zambeef outlet and we stored them on site pending further verifications from Chongwe and Huntley farms by the Ministry of Health officials who were conducting on-spot inspections and laboratory tests of the same food articles," said the source.

The source said Zambeef management and personnel were instructed to halt the sale and not to tamper with the seized products until they were advised to do so by relevant authorities.

The source said Zambeef management then went to Kitwe City Council to complain and senior officers harassed the inspectors and ordered that the seized products be released.

"People from Lusaka were not doing anything about the situation so what we did was to go to court and get a court order which was circulated to all the towns on the Copperbelt and we got it on June 3, 2013. With the court order, we were able to get the Zambeef products and no one has been interfering since," said the source.

"…Officers from Lusaka are not telling the minister the truth. This whole thing started from the Copperbelt and the results showing aromatic aldehydes are from the Copperbelt. Here shops don't have Zambeef products because we removed them two weeks ago. So the rest of the country, apart from the Copperbelt, are still selling Zambeef products."

And according to a memorandum dated March 26, 2013, from Kitwe City Council's directorate of public health signed by deputy director of public health, a P. C Kaminsa, addressed to the town clerk and copied to director legal services, chief health inspector and health inspector, the department had received concerns over the repacking of expired beef livers and kidneys by Zambeef Plc.

"This was brought to light through an electronic mail that was circulating on the internet and that was meant to be communication between Zambeef personnel only. To this effect, health inspectors made a follow up and conducted an inspection of the premises stated above (Plot 4166 Euclid Road Industrial Area, Kitwe)," read the memorandum.

Kaminsa in the memorandum stated that during the course of inspection, import and export permits and veterinary certificates were scrutinised.

"On the above documents, one anomaly was observed with regards the beef liver which showed details of poultry as opposed to liver. Further, it was not conclusive whether the kidneys and beef liver had been inspected prior to entry at the respective port and an on-spot inspection could not be conducted at the time as the said food was deeply frozen," Kaminsa stated.

"Zambeef premises were seized and food stored on site pending further verification from Chongwe and laboratory tests of the same food articles. Zambeef management and personnel were further instructed to bring to a halt the sale and not to tamper with the seized articles until advised to do so by the relevant authorities," read the memorandum.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Mkhondo Lungu has asked Dr Kasonde to issue a ministerial statement in Parliament next week over Zambeef's imported beef products that have been found to contain aromatic aldehyde, a chemical used for embalming dead bodies.

This was after Monze Central member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu rose on a point of order asking the Speaker whether Dr Kasonde was in order to remain quiet over Zambeef's dealings.

Mwiimbu said the government should clearly state measures put in place to protect the lives of the people.

"We are having reports in the press that Zambeef has been importing beef into this country that contains very harmful chemicals and those chemicals are a threat to the lives of our people. Mr Speaker, we are all aware that Zambeef is the major suppliers of beef in this country," he said.

"I know that a lot of people including the members of parliament are affected. Yesterday Thursday there was a report in The Post which highlighted that Zambeef had imported this particular dangerous beef from UK and today there is another item which is highlighting the same issue pertaining to the importation of beef by Zambeef."

Mwiimbu urged the government to specify the action that would be taken against Zambeef if the company was found wanting.

"I am also aware that Zambeef is a major employer in this country and that whatever action that will be taken, it will affect a lot of people. But the lives of the people are at stake. The question, Mr Speaker, is that when and how did this importation start and who authorised the importation of this beef?" asked Mwiimbu.

"What measures has the government put in place to ensure that any imported food items in this country are safe to the lives of the people? Mr Speaker as we speak there is no guarantee that various shops that are owned by Zambeef, this particular beef have been withdrawn."

And a check at some Zambeef outlets in Ndola's town centre found the shop stocked with milk only.

Asked why they were not selling any meat products, one of the workers said they were surprised that trucks that brought meat products every morning delivered milk only.

"We don't know why meat and other products were not brought. We were surprised this morning that trucks delivered milk. Maybe it is because of what we have been reading in the paper," he said.

"From morning only two people came to buy the milk."

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