:: Editor's Letter
25 September

So whose idea was it anyway?

“Who had this
bloody fancy idea?” was the unequivocal response I got from a farmer I phoned up to get a response on the new proposed amendment to Act No 36 (the Fertiliser, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock
Remedies Act). “Sounds to me like someone trying to justify their existence again.” Ja, it seems so.
Because what it all boils down to is that anyone who mixes feed will have to have their mixing facilities registered and inspected. And of course, there will be a fee – two, as a matter of fact – an inspection fee and a tonnage fee.
And the benefit, you might ask? Ah, well, that’s not so clear. When we asked agriculture management adviser to the Department of Agriculture, Siyabonga Mbambo, he spoke rather vaguely about setting limits for ingredients such as melamine and cadmium to avoid food poisoning, and to promote traceability.
All lofty ideals, but isn’t most of what farmers mix on their farms already provided by feed companies which already have been inspected? Sure, there might be some farm-grown mealies and second-grade wheat chucked in, but it’s not as if farmers are importing shiploads of dubious feed ingredients from China.
Regarding the concern about consumers, it would make me feel a lot better if there was the same concern for our critically polluted river systems which are being used for irrigation.
The potential danger here is far more immediate to my mind than any energy lick being knocked together by a farmer in his shed.
And then there is, of course, the issue of the registrar, and here I want to apologise to the minister, as I know the problems started before her tenure. But frankly, it’s not as if the registrar is capable of doing the work it already has. One only needs to think of the insane lag in registering animal remedies or any other agricultural product for that matter.
Then there was the cadmium poisoning in the Eastern Cape pineapple industry, the melamine travesty in the Western Cape and the insidious influx of dubious generic products like pesticides, herbicides and the like, that aren’t even lightly regulated. So is this latest idea enforceable? I don’t think so.
And when Mbambo justifies the amendments by pointing out that “if we look at other countries, we see they have moved away from a system of regulating products and instead, regulate facilities”, I have to ask, what countries are we talking about? Zambia or Switzerland?
Because at the end of the day, the only benefit I can see in this legislation is for the department and feed companies.
The fees will result in a whole new bureaucratic tier, and when Mbambo says the fees will “not be expensive”, one has to say, ja, maybe not if you earn a state salary littered with perks. But the fees will be just another drain for farmers already working with thin margins, and contending with other pointless expenditures like property rates and coughing up for Eskom CEO Jacob Marogo’s 27% salary hike.
On the other hand, I’m sure the hassle factor and expense for farmers will result in a huge demand for premixed feed, a breach that feed companies will no doubt step into with great relish.
And so, despite the many and continuous assurances from the state, starting with Thabo Mbeki’s first state of the nation address, that lowering the cost of doing business is an official priority, I just don’t see it happening. Instead, South Africa will become increasingly regulated by an increasingly dysfunctional state bureaucracy. This is not the way to go. |fw


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