The dairy industry is hoping that the seizure of 22t of cheap cheddar cheese imported from Ireland will depress imports and relieve pressure on the local market.
Health authorities at Durban Port rejected the cheese as unfit for human consumption due to E. coli contamination. Dèan Kleynhans, Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) chair, said this is an exceptional case and that contaminated dairy product imports are rarely reported.
The MPO has asked SA authorities to ban Irish dairy imports until their safety has been confirmed. The MPO raised the alert about the cheese when it became suspicious about its low import price.
“We’ve complained to the authorities about this Irish cheese several times this past year,” said Barbara Bieldt, MPO manager for market protection and development. “It doesn’t make sense for Ireland to export cheese at low prices to SA because the world price is high enough for it to export at a higher price.”
Bieldt said the free on board price of the seized cheese was about R32/kg to R33/kg. “This is unrealistic compared to its producer price and international prices. We also have to compare it to SA producer prices. Our average milk price is about R3/l and you need 10l of milk to produce 1kg of cheese.” She said in regions where retailers sell cheap cheese imports, it had a “massive depressing effect” on producer prices.
“The retailers inform local processors what they’re willing to pay based on the import price. Producer prices are still about 6% to 7% lower than this time last year. Input costs are up dramatically and with the stagnant producer prices, farmers are really struggling.”
Chris Maxon, spokesperson for the health department, said the Irish cheese was to be re-exported to Ireland at the importer’s expense. Neither the MPO nor the health department would disclose the names of the exporter or the importer.
Steve Galane, agriculture department media liaison officer, congratulated health authorities for identifying the cheese as unfit for consumption. “The need to investigate the cause of the contamination really rests with the role players, from the cheese maker right up to transportation.” – Robyn Joubert