Thousands of Batswana who have been eating Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) beef for the past few weeks face the risk of developing resistance to antibiotic treatment for infections. Just when BMC officials were reaching for champagne bottles to celebrate the re-listing of their abattoir to export beef to the lucrative European Union (EU) Market, the EU threw out the BMC’s first consignment of beef because it failed the chemical risk assessment procedure. The meat was, instead, sold to the local market.
Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the BMC tried to export to the EU, 200 tonnes of beef from feedlot cattle believed to have been administered antibiotics to fast track their growth. This violated the EU strategy to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance to human, animal and plant health. The EU strategy includes the banning of antibiotics for non-medical use in animals (e.g. their uses in feed for growth promotion), and covers a range of actions at EU and national level in the areas of data collection, surveillance, research and awareness-raising.
After a marathon fight between BMC and the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS), the BMC two months ago issued a statement announcing that DVS had approved the slaughter plant, cutting plant and cold stores at the Lobatse abattoirs for exportation of meat to local, regional and EU markets.
The BMC then resumed export to the EU last month; their first consignment of 200 tonnes of beef was, however, turned away by the EU because the level of antibiotics was above the limit set by the EU. It is understood that the meat came from 2000 cattle from a feedlot where antibiotics may have been used for growth promotion.
Sunday Standard can further reveal that instead of destroying the meat, the BMC sold it to local consumers without establishing the health risks it posed. It is believed that antimicrobial use in agriculture can compromise human therapies when bacteria develop cross-resistanceÔÇöwhen their resistance to one drug also makes them resistant to other related drugs.
Resistant bacteria that develop in confined animal feeding operations (feedlots) as a result of feeding to fast track growth can be transferred to the general human population via food. As resistant strains of bacteria emerge, they have easy passage to humansÔÇöright though the butchery store.
Designated by the European Union as Botswana’s “Central Competent Authority” (CCA), the Department of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture is entrusted by the EU with the responsibility of guaranteeing that meat exported to the EU market meets standards for animal health, identification, movement control and traceability and for abattoir and meat hygiene. By approving the BMC slaughter plant, cutting plant and cold stores at Lobatse, the DVS staked their credibility that the biological and chemical contamination risk at the abattoir met acceptable EU standards and that there is scientific formula being applied to monitor the situation. The DVS is also charged with giving the consignment a seal of approval before being shipped to the EU.
There are fears that this may be a major blow to Botswana in light of the fact that the DVS’s credibility with the EU has in the past been questioned. This was partly the cause for the initial decision to delist the BMC.
Information passed to the Sunday Standard reveals that DVS had failed to maintain the integrity of the EU export certification system by renewing the annual EU export license of BMC’s Lobatse cannery when DVS knew the cannery was not EU compliant and by falsely attesting in EU Export Certificates to overall compliance with EU standards when DVS knew that neither the BMC nor DVS were compliant.
The gravity of the findings caused the EU to write a letter dated 08 March 2011 to DVS Director Dr. Phillemon-Motsu in which the EU stated that the credibility of EU Export Certificates issued by DVS, and by necessary implication, the credibility of DVS itself, had been called into question. ?In other words, the trust that the EU had placed in DVS as CCA to guarantee compliance with EU standards, which in effect is the basis for BMC’s ongoing access to the EU market, had been broken:
It is understood that DVS veterinary officers who resisted falsely attesting to compliance in EU Export Certificates were coerced into doing so by their superiors under threat of being reported to the Minister contrary to EU Directive 96-93-EC, which requires that certifying veterinary officers must be completely impartial to maintain the integrity of the EU certification system.?Information passed to Sunday Standard indicate that the DVS stalled in re-licencing the BMC because it was worried about its credibility with the EU. According to a confidential report on the BMC “commissioner research into status of Lobatse abattoir licencing status” compiled on 3rd November 2011 while the BMC was still delisted, former BMC chief executive officer David Falepau was quoted saying that “Dr Motsu had indicated that he felt that DVS could not re-licence Lobatse due to the perception that EU would consider DVS not competent due to outstanding repairs not done.”
It is feared that the recent rejection of the BMC consignment by the EU may start another round of recriminations between BMC and the DVS.