Listeriosis: Hold Tiger Brands accountable - SACP

Party says private companies responsible for outbreak must pay compensation to victims

Decisive government response on Listerosis welcome, but more system measures are urgently required to safeguard public health and safety – SACP

The government has decisively responded to stop the outbreak of Listerosis, a serious-to-deadly infection usually caused by the bacteria called listeria. All manufacturers have been instructed to recall processed, ready-to-eat meat products; exports of such products have been suspended; the public has been and still advised to avoid all processed, ready-to-eat meat products; the products must be isolated, returned to the stores for a refund and thorough cleaning must be carried out both at the stores and at home where they were kept. This intervention must be welcome by all, but more decisive measures are required.

The infection has already killed 180 people in South Africa. Almost one thousand more people, mostly pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions have fallen ill because of the infection – BUT EVERYBODY IS AT RISK.

Test results by our scientists at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases traced the deadly bacteria to a Polokwane food production facility of Enterprise Foods, a subsidiary of Tiger Brands, a private monopoly company. Other facilities belonging to the monopoly, and another dominant, private company, Rainbow Chicken, are under inspection.

Unsurprisingly, instead of shouldering full responsibility, and true to their greed, the capitalist bosses of Tiger Brands were quick to dismiss the scientific findings, claiming that there is no link between their products, their methods of production and any of their facilities on the one hand and any of the listeria that caused the Listerosis on the other hand.

The SACP is calling on government to hold Tiger Brands accountable. Heavy penalties must be imposed for the negligence that resulted in the failure to prevent the bacteria at Tiger Brands Enterprise Foods in Polokwane, in Gauteng and elsewhere at the monopoly’s facilities, and at other companies that failed to uphold food health and safety, Rainbow Chicken included.

In the case of Life Esidimeni where people died, the state was correctly called upon to compensate the families that lost their loved ones as a result of the maltreatment and negligence that occurred. In the like manner, the private companies responsible for the Listerosis outbreak must be caused to compensate the families that lost their loved ones, and to pay for the medical and other, actual or potential, losses and expenses incurred by those who fell ill.    

By the way, Tiger Brands was previously found guilty of price fixing and had to pay a fine, which has now proven by its persisting intransigence to have been a mere slap on the wrist. Its entire hostile attitude to and negligence compromising human life is driven by the selfish interests of profit maximisation and self-enrichment. This involves, on the one hand cost cutting measures in production to the extent of compromising workers’ employment conditions, eroding their hard won labour standards and deepening their exploitation while, on the hand not taking care of food health and safety and exploiting members of the public at the till by fixing prices and making food and other products expensive to afford and deadly to consume.

All workers at Tiger Brands’ Enterprise Foods must receive urgent priority for screening, paid for by the monopoly. The workers’ conditions of employment, including hours of work, must be looked into and be addressed.

While the state has taken steps to make Listerosis a notifiable disease to improve responsiveness, it is clear that more other system steps are required. The Constitution and legislation governing health inspection as a whole must be reviewed to give the national Department of Health overall health inspection responsibility. Municipalities have different levels of capacity, and in certain areas not all of them have the required level of capacity. While others, such as certain and therefore not all metropolitan municipalities have some level of health inspection capacity, the other, especially municipalities in rural and disadvantaged areas do not have such capacity.

Food handling procedures at retail, other stores, restaurants, hotels and wherever food is prepared and served must be revised and regulated to prevent cross-contamination now and in future. It is unethical in any case to mix the food that other people do not consume with the food that they consume, to prepare and handle the food using the same processing or cooking equipment or serving utensils, and to allow their juices, where any, flowing either way and the products even touching each other.

Statement issued by the South African Communist Party, 9 March 2018