April 25, 2018 / 1:06 PM / 3 months ago

South African pork prices fall after listeria outbreak

* Pork prices down by a third as demand tanks

* Industry losses estimated at $81 million

* 180 died in deadliest listeria outbreak in history

By Tanisha Heiberg

PRETORIA, April 25 (Reuters) - South African pork prices have fallen over a third in recent months as demand for processed cold meats tanked in the wake of the deadliest outbreak of listeria in history.

Cheaper pork will add to downward pressure on food prices, which have been slowing on expectations of a solid maize crop, helping to pull inflation in Africa’s most industrialised economy down to seven-year lows.

The government traced the listeria strain responsible for the outbreak to “polony”, a low-priced processed meat from a factory owned by Tiger Brands, after 948 cases were reported since January 2017. More than 180 people have died.

“The pork industry unnecessarily suffered a severe blow following the recent outbreak of listeriosis,” said Paul Makube, senior agricultural economist at FNB Agri-Business.

The outbreak is expected to have caused around 1 billion rand ($81 million) in losses to the pork value chain so far due to the changes in consumer perceptions of pork, Makube said.

Annual turnover in the pork industry is around 5.3 billion rand and accounts for 5 percent of the value of livestock output.

“Even though demand for processed and cold meats fell sharply due to the health and safety concerns from the listeriosis outbreak, pork farmers have now had to redirect the pigs for the fresh meat market,” Makube said.

This has effectively flooded grocery shelves with pork chops and hams, pushing prices down. Half of the pork industry’s meat is used in processed products, said South African Pork Producers’ Organisation Chief Executive Johann Kotzé.

Taurai Mpofu, a 20-year-old physics student, is among those avoiding pork meat after the outbreak.

“I’m just doing beef right now and I’m going to wait and see,” Mpofu said while buying beef products at a large retail store.

Producer prices of pork have fallen over 36 percent since early January to 20.15 rand per kilogram amid low demand, said Makube, adding that this is expected to last up to six months.

“Pork was never directly implicated but because of our participation in cold meats, people perceived that,” Kotzé said.

The Health Department in March ordered a recall of cold meat products including polony, prompting a clearing of shelves by retailers.

Listeria, which is usually found in soil and water and some animals, can cause flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection of the bloodstream and brain. ($1 = 12.4581 rand) (Additional reporting Patricia Aruo Editing by Ed Stoddard and Dale Hudson)

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