HARARE – The country is badly exposed to the outbreak of the world’s worst listeria outbreak, after it emerged that there is no legal framework to enforce a government ban on the importation of cold meats from South Africa.
A top officer from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, said government must first draft a Statutory Instrument to enable law enforcement agents to assist with the ban.
This comes as government has temporarily banned the importation of all polony, Vienna and Russian sausages and other ready-to-eat meat products.
Issued by the Health and Child Care ministry through its permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji, the ban comes after the United Nations World Health Organisation called the outbreak the largest ever recorded globally.
“What makes this outbreak significant for us is that we do import quite significant food items, particularly cold processed foods into Zimbabwe from South Africa,” Gwinji said.
“However, we continue to increase our surveillance at the border posts and should products be found at the borders, we advise our border control officers to confiscate, quarantine and send for destruction.
“Until we are clear that the outbreak is under control and that the specified food production plant is certified free from the infection, we will not allow any of those products to come into the country.”
Listeria, which causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection of the blood stream and brain, has killed 180 people in the past year.
According to officials, Listeriosis is a rare food-borne disease and is spread from consumption of foods that are contaminated by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
The disease can also be spread from one person who is sick to others by sharing food or through contact.
In South Africa, it was reported yesterday that there was frenzied clearing and cleaning of the shelves by supermarkets chains Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths, which also urged consumers to return the meats for refunds.
Besides Zimbabwe, Zambia has also banned imports of South African processed meat, dairy products, vegetables and fruit.
Mozambique and Namibia halted imports of the processed meat items and Botswana said it was recalling them.
Malawi also stepped up screening of South African food imports.
While efforts to get a comment from police spokesperson Charity Charamba were futile as she was not picking calls yesterday, ZRP sources said their hands were tied in the absence of a statutory instrument.
Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa was not readily available for comment yesterday as he was attending a Cabinet meeting.
But the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) has welcomed the ban, saying it was a necessary cautionary move.
“The ban is quite welcome. It is important for the government to be cautious rather than react when there is already an outbreak, because the level of preparedness of having to fight it is difficult and poses too many challenges,” said CZR chairperson Denford Mutashu.
“So it is a good idea that the government has imposed this ban until further notice, so that we can be able to monitor the situation,” Mutashu said.
“As business, we also have to comply and government has to put serious measures in place to deal with the illegal supply of goods through smuggling. We were anticipating the ban.”
He, however, said the ban will also have a negative impact on the supply of the meat products.
“Definitely, we will have challenges in terms of supply of some products. What is important is the supply of the products but not at the expense of the health of the nation,” Mutashu said.