PRODUCERS are questioning Meatco's decision to pay 25% less per kilogram for slaughter cattle that are not EU-compliant based on a recent reinterpretation of the '40 days residency' regulation by the Namibian Veterinary Service (NVS).
The decision says that all animals that lose their EU export status due to the regulation - where compliant animals come into contact with non-compliant animals - will be penalised by 25% per kilogram as from this week. However, producers will have the opportunity to withdraw their animals from slaughter.
Farmers are asking why Meatco cannot keep compliant and non-compliant cattle separate at the abbattoir, as they are allowed to do, and pay the same price for both, seeing that the company already gets high prices from the EU market for compliant cattle.
The producers argue that since only about five percent of cattle are non-compliant, according to a Meatco newsletter, this could easily supply the Namibian market.
They accuse Meatco of using the regulation to force them to sell cattle directly to Meatco instead of at open auctions, where their cattle could come into contact with non-compliant livestock.
"Producers are in a way forced to sell to Meatco for less because of fear of losing out at open auctions where just one non-compliant animal could 'infect' all the EU-compliant animals, causing them to lose their status and force producers to sell their stock for lower prices, or take them home.
Unfortunately there is no other market for these contaminated animals," one farmer said.
At an open auction, producers argue, it is easier to get a favourable price.
"Only after an animal is slaughtered and inspected at Meatco will the producer know what he will get paid by weight. If he is not happy with the price, he can't take the animal back because it's already slaughtered. He just has to take what he gets.
And then the price the company advertises excludes abattoir service deduction and Meat Board levies. At least at an auction, one can say no to a price and either hope for a better deal later, or take the live animal back home," a farmer said.
Meatco controls 80% of Namibia's beef exports. Only a small percentage is exported to the European Union, while the rest goes to South Africa. The company slaughters about 120 000 cattle and produces more than 27 000 tons of beef a year.
Meatco's announcement was based on a directive by Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Jessey Kamwi on February 4 that only cattle complying with the '40 days regulation' would be slaughtered for the EU market.
Although this regulation had been in effect since November 2011, its interpretation changed from February 4. Now, animals destined for export can lose their compliance status if they come into contact with non-compliant animals during the 40 days before slaughter.