Beef farmers rejoice as Okapuka reopens
An almost two month-long spat between Meatco and the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS), in which emotions sometimes reached boiling point, over the closure of Okapuka feedlot on Tuesday ended on a triumphant note for the Namibian beef industry when the DVS gave the green light to Meatco to slaughter and process 9 000 cattle that have been standing in the feedlot since September 2.
The DVS closed the facility on that date due to traces of the growth-stimulant zeranol found in the urine of two bulls.
Bearer of the good news, director of the DVS Dr Milton Maseke, says all restrictions at Okapuka have been lifted since yesterday after the latest laboratory tests proved without doubt that the small amounts of zeranol found in the urine of two animals earlier this year came from cattle feed of unknown origin and that the zeranol was not administered in any way while the cattle were in the feedlot.
He, however, expressed concern about the moldy feed at the feedlot, which could be an ideal breeding place and trigger for the naturally occurring of the Fusarium fungus that produces zeranol within animal feed: “It is with this concern in mind that the DVS and Meatco has come to an amicable solution to have the moldy feed removed from Okapuka and to ensure that this kind of situation will never occur again at the feedlot.”
The welcome news reverberated through the meat industry. Chairperson of Meatco Board Martha Namundjebo-Tilahun praised the outcome of the dispute as a triumph for the local meat industry and stressed that cattle from the feedlot can now be slaughtered and exported to any local and international market and that Meatco will be able to fill its Norwegian beef quota of 1 200 metric tonnes.
The re-opening thus paves the way for the slaughter of cattle for markets in the European Union and elsewhere. Both parties agreed to work more closely in the days, weeks and months to come to avoid a recurrence of any such incident. Meatco Board member Ronald Kubas explained that the source of moldy feed is very difficult to trace, as it can start in the production process, or during transport.
He explained that Meatco uses various suppliers of fodder from different geological areas and buys the feed in bulk, which is then stored, and this possibly where the development and growth of zeranol occurs.
Praises rang out from all stakeholders for the manner in which the near catastrophic situation was handled by the Meatco Board, the DVS and their counterpart DG SANTE within the EU, who all adopted an approach to resolve the matter in a structured, responsible and unfettered way.
Meatco indicated it would count its losses for the period when no slaughtering or marketing took place and will also make an announcement soon about how the situation has affected or might affect meat prices in the days to come. Meatco initially said it lost N$35 million in the first seven weeks after the closure of the feedlot and that it could result in a drop of between N$5 and N$8 per kg in producer prices.