Editor's Comment

Red meat ban: Eye-opener, opportunity

All types of processed meat have been removed from some supermarkets

THUMBS up to Government for acting swiftly in suspending the importation of processed ready-to-eat meat products, vegetables and other dairy products from South Africa.
The ban, which comes in the wake of an outbreak of listeriosis, a foodborne disease caused by a bacterium called listeria, in South Africa, will certainly help prevent the spread of the disease to Zambia.
The nation is just recovering from the traumatic cholera outbreak, which lasted for months, halting social and economic activities and killing over 60 people.
Zambia cannot afford another crisis in the name of listeriosis.
South Africa, a major exporter of processed products, vegetables and dairy products to Zambia, has been hit by the world’s worst-ever listeria outbreak.
The outbreak, which has been linked to two South African companies – Enterprise Foods’ factories and Rainbow Chicken – has so far affected 948 people, killing 180 of them.
Listeriosis, a disease contracted by ingesting contaminated food, can cause severe illnesses, including flu-like illness, diarrhoea, fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness.
Consuming food contaminated with listeria may also result in the infection of the blood stream called septiceamia and infection of the brain – meningoencephalitis.
Listeriosis severely affects the elderly, unborn babies, newborns and those who are immuno-compromised.
In pregnant women, it may cause stillbirth or spontaneous abortion, and pre-term birth is common.
Given the devastating effects of listeriosis, it is in the best interest of the country to ban the importation of any risky foods.
The ban will not only help the country save lives but resources as well.
Needless to say, when there is such an outbreak, the demand for health care services also goes up.
Government is compelled to look for more funding to meet the health demands.
It is good that Government has not only banned the importation of processed products but also gone a step further to strengthen port health systems to monitor food imports into Zambia.
Government has also heightened active food safety surveillance in all provinces and the index of suspicion for patients who may have symptoms such as fever, nausea or diarrhoea.
These measures will no doubt help prevent listeriosis or early detection in an unfortunate instance of an outbreak.
In as much as Government is doing a commendable job to safeguard the lives of people, we are also comforted that South African chain stores – the major outlets of processed products – have not turned a blind eye to the threat caused by listeriosis.
All the affected chainstores have stripped their shelves and fridges of all the risky products.
They have further called on all consumers who may have purchased such products to return them.
This is what is expected of responsible investors because business is not just about making huge returns but also protecting the name and interests of consumers.
While Zambia may not have recorded any case of listeriosis so far, we agree with Minister of Health Dr Chilufya Chitalu on the need to heighten sensitisation on the disease.
It is not even a matter of debate that many people are still ignorant about the outbreak of listeriosis.
People need to be made aware of the risks of taking processed foods from the named companies in South Africa just in case they still find their way on shelves.
In view of the ban on processed meats, vegetables and dairy products, Zambians should rise up and seize the opportunity to supply these products.
Zambian farmers should not be selfish but seek partnerships to fill the vacuum that the ban of South African imports has left.
Zambians need to work harder to increase production of vegetables, dairy and meat products to meet the demand.
This is an opportunity for Zambian farmers to prove themselves.

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