In February 2013, following the issuing of a new directive by the Namibian Directorate of Veterinary Services, it was reported that the Namibian beef processing company Meatco had announced that it would pay 25% less for slaughter animals that were not compliant with the EU’s new “40-days regulation”. The “residency requirement” forms part of the localised application of new EU regulations introduced in November 2011. The provisions of the new directive stipulate that “only cattle born south of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF) or those who lived south of the fence for more than 90 days are EU compliant.” In addition, “such cattle must have lived on a farm south of the VCF for more than 40 days without contact with non-compliant animals.” Any compliant animal which comes into contact with a non-compliant animal less than 40 days before slaughtering loses its EU-compliant status.
According to further press reports, representatives of the Namibian National Farmers Union (NNFU), the farmers’ organisation for the communal areas, expressed “deep concerns regarding the effect [that the new directive] will have on communal farmers”, since “it is simply impossible to demand that cattle with EU status must be separated from other animals in communal areas for 40 days before slaughtering.” The NNFU maintained that communal area farmers cannot afford “to fence off cattle with EU status from other animals”, nor “keep animals apart from each other at auctions in the communal areas”, nor “afford to transport animals with different status in different trucks and avoid any contact”. Equally, however, “no communal producer can afford to lose 25 percent per kilogram because of the new regulation.” Namibia’s Minister of Agriculture endorsed this view, pointing out that the measure would also impose an extra financial burden on commercial farmers.
According to Meatco representatives, the company lost nearly N$1 million (about €83,290) in a single day due to animals losing their EU export status, following the application of the new Veterinary Services Directive. The timing of the new directive was linked to preparations for a visit by inspectors from the EU Food and Veterinary Office scheduled for 19 February to 1 March 2013.
A dual payment system for EU-compliant and non-EU-compliant cattle is now in place. According to Meatco, “income returns from exports to the EU averaged about 40% higher per head than for cattle not exported to the EU.” In the past, prices for non-EU-compliant cattle “were being subsidised by compliant cattle exported to the EU”.
According to the press, there has been speculation that, with lower production in recent years, the 25% price cut for non-compliant cattle is a mechanism to discourage marketing of animals through open auctions, where the risk of contacts with non-compliant cattle is increased. Meatco representatives maintain, however, that the decision was simply “basic business”, since non-compliant cattle fetch lower prices in the market.
Beef sector stakeholders have “called for the interpretation of the regulation to be reviewed”, since “experts believe that the regulation could be interpreted in a way that will be less damaging to the industry.” The Namibian government is reportedly planning to approach the EU “to exempt parts of the country from the 40-day residency requirement”. This includes the whole area south of the VCF. It is maintained that current systems of cattle identification, registration and certification ensure that animals destined for slaughter for the EU market “are transported, slaughtered and processed separate from other animals”.
Namibia has been exporting beef to the EU from areas south of the VCF for over 20 years. There has been no outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this production zone for over 70 years. In addition, the Namibian authorities have set in place a strict cattle traceability system and have consistently complied with all requirements of EU sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS)-related regulations, rapidly correcting any shortcomings that emerged in the light of evolving EU standards. The question has therefore been raised as to why these stringent new regulations have suddenly appeared now.
From Namibian beef farmers to Kenyan horticultural exporters and South African citrus producers, the need arises for an intensified dialogue on SPS and food safety matters to ensure that underlying EU SPS concerns are addressed within a framework consistent with the production realities prevailing in ACP countries. If not, in many sectors, smallholder producers – particularly those operating under traditional land tenure systems – will find themselves systematically excluded from access to lucrative markets in the EU.
This raises serious issues of policy coherence, given the EU’s commitment to the promotion of the smallholder farming sector as an integral part of its poverty alleviation efforts.