Traceability: ‘Meat industry cannot wait for ideal system’

13 September 2023

By: Lucille Botha

Cooperation in the meat industry tops the list of factors that will open new markets for red meat.

Dewald Olivier, CEO of Red Meat Industry Services, says even though 96% of beef and 99% of mutton produced in South Africa is sold locally, it is important to develop export markets. 

“Our local market has reached a saturation point and I don’t think we’re going to be able to establish another million meat-eaters in South Africa without major financial input,” he said at the Wagyu Association of South Africa’s annual congress near Franschhoek. 

He said boosting exports would be easier to achieve, and the aim is to increase them from 4% of production to 20%. 

In the long term, the plan is to add about 250,000 calves to the commercial value chain and Olivier believes most growth will come from the emerging market. 

“In the next 12 months we have to gain ground in other countries as well. Malaysia is a possibility. It’s a massive market, but we have to look at how we’re going to make the government’s hands stronger to make it happen.” 

He believes the various breeds must cooperate more with each other, but the cattle industry must also cooperate with the government to remove obstacles.

“We need to enlarge the (export) cargo containers and put more beef in them. There is room for everyone – for commodity meat, free-range meat and Wagyu – but we all have to work together.” 

Olivier singled out the Wagyu industry for its systems and protocols. “Wagyu is part of the red meat industry in South Africa and we need you to convince the guys who don’t see the benefits of traceability,” he said.

‘Lazy Susan’ approach 

All markets assumed that animal welfare and traceability systems and protocols were in place when exporting was being considered. 

“It may be controversial, but I don’t think everyone wants to be part of the formal red meat value chain,” he said. “There are those who want to be subsistence farmers or others, such as stud farmers, who do not want to slaughter their animals. How do you convince them to put on ear tags for traceability and to become part of the system?” 

That’s why he wants to create a commercial market with a traceability system, and he proposed a “Lazy Susan” model that includes all levels of the industry when it comes to information transfer. 

“If we are going to wait for the right system to use as a national system, we are going to wait forever. The Wagyu industry is at the forefront of traceability systems. We need their help and guidance to convince other farmers there is a place for everyone.” 

Olivier says they have already spoken to abattoirs and a trial is under way to integrate traceability into the value chain.

“From an auction perspective, there are already guys who are willing to push their auction prices into such a system, so that the value chain can see how much was paid for the carcass, what it looks like and where it came from. 

“People can exchange information and act on it. We don’t want to take anything away from service providers, but if you want three systems you have to have three ear tags, and we have to understand that a national database is our ultimate goal.” 

Red Meat Industry Services is in discussion with the government about changes to the Animal Identification Act. As it stands, the law excludes ear tags as a method of identification and requires a brand or tattoo.

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