Storm over meat import ban

Storm over meat import ban

MASERU-THE ban on beef imports has triggered howls of protest from local meat suppliers who say the move has crippled their businesses which might force some to soon close shop.

The government stopped beef imports, saying it wanted to support local farmers. Although most businesses appreciate the logic behind the new policy they believe there should have been wider consultations and investment in the livestock industry before the embargo was announced.

What has irked most of the businesses is that Meraka Abattoir has been granted the right to be the sole beef supplier in Lesotho.

This, they say, has made Meraka a monopoly although it is battling to meet the market demand and supply the right quality of meat. Some are now loudly wondering if the move was meant to benefit Meraka.

They say Meraka should not enjoy this preferential treatment because it is not different from the other local meat suppliers. Cool Foods, a meat supplier, is seeking an urgent High Court order to force the government to issue a permit for it to import beef from South Africa.

Cool Foods’ Stephen Ramsay said the company filed the case after its truck was returned at the border because it did not have a beef import permit.

“Our truck was turned back at the border a few weeks ago because the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) wanted a licence from the Ministry of Small Businesses which we did not have because previously they only wanted the livestock permit at the border,” Ramsay said.

“It is unfair that we are being told to buy from Meraka when they do not have the relevant quantities and grades that we are looking for.”
“They have C grade and we supply A grade, therefore in the meantime we are unable to supply our clients.”

The ban, Ramsay said, helps Meraka to monopolize the industry. “The only difference is that Meraka imports live animals and they import carcasses.”
“The proposed campaign to buy and support local is a good one but it needs to be dealt with holistically.”

“Shutting the border is not a solution. Rather, the minister should look into heavily investing in a feedlot and supporting local farmers so that they can be able to provide the relevant qualities and quantities.”

Ramsay said sometimes Cool Foods gets permits to import mince, liver and lungs but “that only happens when Meraka says it has run out of those things”.

“While Meraka is being consulted our clients suffer.”

This is not the first time Cool Foods has had to take the legal route to force the government to give it permits to import beef. The last court battle was in 2016 and the court ruled in the company’s favour. Also furious about the ban is Montsuoe Lethoba who owns Leribe Meat Wholesalers which had a contract to supply meat to the army.

Lethoba told thepost that his relations with the army soured when Meraka became the sole supplier. He said Meraka failed to deliver on time and when it does it supplies low quality meat that the army rejects.

Meraka, he said, told him that it could not give him the same credit facility he was getting from his South African supplier. Lethoba said he believes the ban is a strategy to support Meraka at the expense of other local meat suppliers.

“The same butchery I competed with when tendering to supply the army with meat, today I am told to buy from it,” Lethoba said.

Raliopelo Maphathe, owner of Farm Fresh Meat Market, said he might be forced to retrench if the government does not reverse the ban. “Meraka is an abattoir like all of us. They import meat but now we are being forced to buy from the abattoir which sells meat at high prices” Maphathe said.
He said Meraka had jerked up its prices but is still failing to deliver.

“Customers leave due to high prices and the few that remain are not happy because Meraka is not able to provide the necessary quantities” Maphathe.
The government has however refused to budge despite the outrage from meat suppliers. Lekhooe Makhate, the director of marketing in the Ministry of Small Business, told a press conference on Monday that the complaints were overdone.

He said those companies that are complaining were bringing poor quality meat into the country.

“The ban does not allow them to do that anymore hence they are not satisfied with having to buy meat from Meraka,” Makhate said.

Minister of Small businesses, Chalane Phori, downplayed the uproar over the ban. He said he does not believe that Meraka is not supplying good quality. He said that individuals “should stop trying to put their interests first and politicising everything even where it is unnecessary”.

Meraka, Phori said, is a “national abattoir that is in the interest of the nation not individuals”.

Staff Reporter

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