RED meat retailers have cried foul over lost revenue due to a three-week ban on red meat importation from South Africa following a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak which was detected in the Limpopo province early last month.
In response to the outbreak, the government banned the importation of red meat from South Africa to avoid the spread of the viral disease which causes lesions and lameness in cattle and sheep.
Lesotho imports live Grade A cloven-hoofed animals through abattoir, Meraka Lesotho who then sells the meat to local markets and butcheries.
The ban was lifted but the government, through the Department of Livestock Services, has called for the meat traders to practice caution in purchasing the live cloven-hooted animals and processed meats.
This comes after the South Africa Veterinary Authority communicated with its red meat exporters that the disease had been contained.
However, local meat traders said the lifting of the ban came too little too late since they have lost revenue.
Pick’nPay manager, Samuel Mphana said the store lost 20 percent of its monthly sales which come from their butchery.
Mr Mphana said the 20 percent translated into M4 million which the store has lost due to unavailability of Grade A red meat in its butchery. Mr Mphana said their reputation with consumers took a knock as the store was unable to meet their meat demand.
“This is such an inconvenience to the store and its customers because it makes us look inconsistent,” Mr Mphana said.
“The customers come here to look for what they want and when they do not get it, they lose trust in us. And the downside is that once you lose a customer it is usually very hard to earn back their trust.”
Mr Mphana said the crisis would not have impacted on the market had government not decided to restrict red meat importation by individual traders.
In March 2018, the Ministry of Small Business Development announced the partial ban of importation of red meat to reserve the market for local producers. The arrangement only allowed the importation of products that were unavailable in the country.
The move was however met with criticism, with the opposition accusing the government of imposing the ban to ensure that Lesotho’s only abattoir, Meraka, enjoys an unfettered monopoly as the sole importer and supplier of red meat in Lesotho.
Mr Mphana said in the absence of the ban, they would have been able to import meat from other countries like Botswana or Namibia.
“In the past we would acquire licenses to import meat from elsewhere so that a crisis like this one would not impact on our ability to deliver services to the consumers. We used to import beef from Botswana and mutton from Namibia. Now with the restriction our hands are tied. It makes our ability to deliver the service the service look questionable,” Mr Mphana said.
In the circular signed by the Department of Livestock director, Keneuoe Lehloenya, the government said the risk of contracting the disease has been lowered and that meat traders could start buying animals from South Africa.
“Following last month’s suspension of importation of cloven-hoofed animals (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs) on the 10 January 2019, due to outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Vhembe district, Limpopo Province, South Africa, we have closely monitored the situation to ensure that there is no risk of jeopardising freedom without vaccination from FMD status that Lesotho is currently enjoying.
“My office has critically analysed the (Mouth Disease: Vhembe Outbreak and surveillance) report and came to the conclusion that they have managed to contain the disease, and the risk of any transmission of FMD virus from Vhembe were very minimal. They have also taken all necessary measures to control the disease with the ultimate goal of completely eradicating it and regaining free status.
“Considering all the above, the Department of Livestock Services has resolved to cautiously ease the restrictions by allowing importation of the following commodities: live cloven-hoofed animals for slaughter, for rearing or breeding, all processed cloven-hoofed animal products, raw beef, mutton, and raw sausages (wors),” the circular reads.
All importers and traders, farmers and individuals were informed to observe the conditions set on the permits and comply accordingly.
The department said it would continue monitoring and assessing the situation and to inform the public about any changes.