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With reports of imported meat being sold in South Africa, we chat with Caroline McCann from Braeside Butchery and Slow Meat SA, to find out more about this practice, how it affects South African farmers, and what chefs can do to make sure their meat comes from a reliable source.

Is there a lot of meat and chicken in SA that comes from outside our borders?
There is, and it is growing. It is being driven by demands to find cheaper meat. As an example, things like chicken leg quarters are being dumped in South Africa by countries that consume more chicken breast fillets.

Where does the bulk of this international meat come from?
Various countries – we have had a problem with American poultry threatening our local industry if we don’t keep import tariffs in place. They essentially are being accused of dumping their unwanted poultry bits into the SA market as it’s easy for them to do. We also have unrealistically cheap meat from Botswana being sent into our market from time to time which causes huge problems to pricing appropriately and fairly for our farmers.

What does this mean for the South African farmer?
Every time cheap imported meat is bought it threatens another SA farmer and sends us closer to food insecurity! Let’s put into these basic terms – if, as a nation, we stop buying from the few commercial farmers we have left in favour of cheaper meat dumped in our country, we ensure that there is no market for our farmers’ produce.

In general, what is the quality of foreign meat like when compared with South African produce?
Local is lekker – especially with regards to our meat industry. As any consumer will know, fresh meat is always better than frozen and many imports are frozen. Granted, there is a huge difference between things like taste and texture in meat when you compare free range, grass fed with feedlot meat, but overall our farmers are very good at what they do, despite the number of challenges they are faced with.

What ramifications, if any, will the use of meat products from overseas have for the cooking process?
The first challenge is that this meat has been frozen for an extended period of time. Often it is defrosted before being sold to the consumer and then once again re-frozen by the consumer. Any chef will tell you that once meat has been frozen (even for the first time) it is never as tasty, and tenderness is often negatively affected. Also you run serious food safety risks when using meat that has been defrosted once, but more especially twice. Lastly, there is such a fast growing trend from the consumer to know where their food comes from that any chef who proudly buys frozen imported meat is out of touch with modern consumer trends.

What can chefs do to make sure that the meat that they use comes from a reliable source?
The starting point is for chefs to know their suppliers. Nothing is worse than receiving an email from a purchasing officer whose job it is to find cheap meat. If you buy on cost and don’t care where it comes from then chances are you will serve inferior meat which will ultimately cost you more. The next is for chefs to never ever buy frozen meat. There is a reason someone has frozen meat – especially red meat – and it generally is not because that is the optimal way to keep it!

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