The entire Botswana beef industry, from feedlots to the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB), was using ionosphores for beef destined for the European Union market although the substance was banned by the EU.
Up to this moment, no one is prepared to take responsibility for the lapse that risked Botswana’s beef exports to the EU being banned. The Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) insisted this week that it had no legal obligation to notify famers about which substances are banned by the European Union (EU).
This surfaced this week in a case in which livestock producers and feedlot owners Feed Master have taken the BMC and the DVS to court after they sold BMC cattle whose meat was recalled from European Union (EU) in 2012 because it was found to contain banned antibiotics called salinomycin which enhances fast growth of animal.
Advocate Stephen Vivian who is representing DVS in the case told Lobatse High Court’s Justice Abednigo Tafa that the department was not responsible for sharing information about banned substances by EU with famers.
He was responding to suggestion by Feed Master’s key witness Dr Mark Bing who insisted that DVS should shoulder the blame for the BMC beef consignment containing banned substances that found its way into the European market.
“We were left by ourselves, there are no guidelines by DVS,” said Bing adding that in other countries beef exporter parastatals offer guidelines to farmers. Vivian countered the assertion saying there was no legislation that compelled DVS to stipulate the guidelines that farmers should follow.
But Bing further insisted that “if DVS had offered us guidelines, we wouldn’t have suffered. Like in other countries, the competent authority offers guidelines.”
He said according to EU standards, DVS should be sampling pre-mix feed at the border.
“We know that DVS was taking samples but it was not testing for salinomycin. DVS must have known about the use of salinomycin because of the national residue limit (NRL). It was a banned substance in 2009 and so investigations must have taken place then,” he said.
Bin who is a veterinarian contracted by Feed Master and other feedlots also insisted that the information he had gathered was that salinomycin was a controlled substance, to which Vivian replied that for one to use it, he or she should know what the national residue level is.
“You will have to get it by approaching the DVS and ask them,” said Vivian.
Vivian further argued that DVS did not know that the pre-mix feed fed to cattle contained another banned substance called ionosphores to which Bing replied that EU regulations required that DVS as the competent authority should have carried out the tests.
“DVS had no obligation to inform stakeholders about EU regulations. It is up to the feedlots owners to find out the acceptable limits (substances) or inquire from DVS,” said Vivian.
Bing told the court that former BMC manager for procurement; Clive Marshal was not bothered about salinomycin because DVS had informed him that it was a controlled substance.
He said Marshal consulted him for an advice in April 2010 informing him that he was worried about some drugs in the feed and one of them was called salinomycin and whether they were legal or not in Botswana.
“I told him that under the circumstances, he would get an answer from the BMC Chief Executive Officer Motshudi Raborokgwe and authorities at DVS. As far as I know, in terms of the Botswana law, salinomycin was not a prohibited substance in 2010,” said Bing.
He added that “DVS failed stakeholders; DVS should be accountable and the country’s legislation should mirror that of EU.”
But Vivian insisted that DVS does not have the obligation to share information to the public.
“Legislation takes time to pass and it may not mirror that of the EU,” he said.
Bing said after one of his clients, Better Beef feedlot failed inspection in 2010, together with Dr Edwin Dikoloti of DVS they developed a standard operation procedure (SOP) document that they made available to BMC and DVS as well as feedlot owners. He said he even made a presentation on the document at a meeting at the request of Marshall to assist BMC.
“I had to develop SOP because one of my client Better Beef feedlot was struggling after inspection 2009. I became familiar with EU requirements in 2009 at Better Beef inspection,” said Bing.
He said at the time he was not aware that salinomycin was a banned substance. Bing said it was regarded by DVS as a controlled substance. He said he later learnt that the EU had prohibited the use of the substance since 2006.
BMC advocate Paul Kennedy wondered how it happened that the entire industry was using the banned ionosphores for beef destined for the EU market.
Bing said it is not only feedlots that are using the banned substances but even Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB). He said all feedlots in the country had been using ionosphores including government institutions such as BAMB.
“I made a mistake in trusting the DVS. I made an assumption that it was a controlled substance and not a banned substance,” said Bing. Kennedy suggested that it was a collective slip up that stakeholders in the industry such as DVS as the competent authority did not pick up the EU requirement before 2012.
However, Bing said this was a result of misinformation by DVS that ionosphores was a controlled substance and this also led to famers continuing using the substance.
“As far back as 2006, it was a banned substance. I learnt that it was a controlled substance through a verbal conversation with Marshal. He told me that DVS had informed him that it was a controlled substance and from the verbal conversation they had been using it since the 1980,” said Bing.
“DVS had informed Marshall that ionosphores had not been banned but was only a controlled substance,” said Bing. Kennedy said BMC was in agreement with Bing’s testimony that the use of ionosphores had been there since 2006 up to 2012.
Another Feed Master witness and owner of Better Beef, Koos Van Varun said the use of ionosphores in cattle feed was banned in 2012 in feedlots by the BMC. He agreed with suggestion that the use of the banned substances was a matter that falls within the DVS and not the BMC.