Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Zambeef's profits and the lives of our people
By Editor
Sat 22 June 2013, 14:00 CAT

It is very clear that Zambeef is not handling the issue of its meat products that have been found to contain aromatic aldehyde in an honest and sincere manner.

We fully appreciate their desperation because this matter is not a small one. This is an issue that could adversely affect their profits. But there is a concern that is far bigger than their profits and that is the wellbeing, health and lives of the many Zambians who consume their products. This doesn't seem to be the main concern of Zambeef.

Their main preoccupation is the preservation of their business and not of the lives of the many Zambians whose health and lives could be affected by their products.

Today, Zambia wants to cast doubt on the competence of the Food and Drug Control Laboratory based at the University Teaching Hospital. This is a public institution that does such tests as is required by law. There are many people who are in prison today as a result of the tests carried out by this institution. Why should Zambeef be an exception? It is unjustified arrogance for Zambeef to think there are no competent Zambians to carry out competent tests on the foodstuffs they import into this country. In effect, what Zambeef is saying is that no Zambian or Zambian institution is fit to certify any of the products they import into this country and such certification, if adverse, should only come from European or South African institutions. This is not acceptable. This is tantamount to Zambeef putting itself above the law.

It is not acceptable for Zambeef to think that they can take their sample abroad, get them tested and bring their results here and impose them on Zambian institutions. This arrogance has to be brought to an end.

We know that Zambeef has amassed a lot of money, it is a very rich company. But we also know that the money that Zambeef has made comes from the sweat of our people. Who doesn't know how much money Zambeef made from the animals they bought cheaply from Western, Southern and Central provinces? Who also doesn't know how much money they have made from importing cheap tripe, livers, hooves from abroad for almost nothing and selling them to our people at a gigantic profit?
No one has problems with Zambeef making such profits. But there is a problem if such profits are making Zambeef arrogant and to think they are above the law.

The best thing that Zambeef can do in these circumstances is not to antagonise officers of state institutions mandated with the responsibility to examine all foodstuffs being imported into this country and sold to our people. It will not help Zambeef to try and portray itself as a victim of malice or ill-will when it is themselves who have issues to explain to the public.

Whatever the denials, aromatic aldehyde has been found in their meat products. And there is no way they can deny this. The best they can do is to admit there is a problem and cooperate with the authorities in resolving the problem. Trying to posture around, pretending there is nothing wrong will not help Zambeef. There is no politics in this. And they shouldn't forget that their meat products are in the cold-rooms, deep freezers, fridges and pots of so many homes. Tests can be conducted on samples from all these people. There is no malice from state institutions or even from ourselves. Denials won't help.

Zambeef's problems did not start yesterday. These issues started as early as February this year and there is enough correspondence from public health institutions concerning this matter. If Zambeef was serious and had reasonable concern for the duties and rights of public institutions, they would have addressed this issue and they wouldn't be receiving the negative publicity they are today subjected to. Public health authorities on the Copperbelt went even as far as applying for and obtaining court orders to force them to remove some products from their shelves. Again, all these issues are documented and Zambeef cannot deny it. So why is this posturing?

City councils are mandated through their health inspectors to ensure that food that is offered for public consumption is not only free from disease, but should be of nature quality and quantity as demanded by the purchaser. The confidence of consumers in the quality and safety of their food supply depends in part on their perception as to the effectiveness of food control measures. A substantial part of the world-wide trade in food, for example in meat and meat products, depends upon the use of inspection and certification systems. And the inspection of food may occur at any stage in the production and distribution stage to ensure food safety. And our health inspectors are government officers empowered by law to perform a regulatory or enforcement function or both when it comes to food. Food inspection and certification systems should be used whenever appropriate to ensure that food, and their production systems, meet requirements in order to protect consumers against food-borne hazards and deceptive marketing practices.

But in all this, there is need for transparency. While respecting legitimate concerns to preserve confidentiality, the principles and operations of food inspection and certification systems should be open to scrutiny by consumers and their representative organisations and other interested parties. So what is happening to Zambeef is not something strange. It is something that should have been happening but has not been happening. The authorities seem to have gone to slumber, endangering public health.

This is a wake-up call to public health inspectors to take their work seriously. It is also a wake-up call to those dealing in foodstuffs to take their responsibilities seriously. Selling food is not like selling widgets. Many diseases are transmitted through foodstuffs. Contaminated foods can cause serious problems to the health of our people and even death. A whole population of a country can be wiped out through contaminated foodstuffs.

We hope Zambeef can take a more responsible attitude and acknowledge that there is a problem and work with the government and other interested parties, including institutions representing consumers, to address this problem. Yes, there will be losses on the part of Zambeef. But these are financial losses that can be recovered later. The losses to the health of our people cannot be so easily recovered as some of them may result in death.

One cannot claim to uphold the sanctity of life if they do not care about the safety of what the public consumes.

It is the duty of the government and its institutions or agencies to regulate industries and commerce to protect public health and the lives of our people from harmful products and business practices. We hope the government on this matter will take the side of the people and not that of Zambeef's profits.

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