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No, South Africa’s government not aiming to put rhinos on your plate

“Government aims to legalise rhino consumption,” claims an article by South African travel magazine Getaway.

It says an amendment to the Meat Safety Act “expands the list of animals that may be legally consumed by humans”.

“This list now includes many threatened species in South Africa including rhino, elephant and giraffe.”

The article has been shared on Facebook, where it’s been viewed more than 260,000 times.

Getaway begins its report with a warning: “Covid-19 has brought the world to its knees and is believed to have been caused by the consumption of an endangered animal.”

The white rhino is listed as “near threatened”, and the black rhino as “critically endangered”. But is the South African government aiming to make it legal for people to eat rhinos?

Regulating abattoirs and meat safety

The Meat Safety Act of 2000 regulates abattoirs and promotes the safety of meat and meat products.

Schedule 1 lists animals to which the act applies. These are currently domesticated animals such as cattle, poultry and horses, and 15 “wild game” species – including the African elephant.

On 28 February the agriculture department published a proposed amendment to the act for public comment. This would expand Schedule 1 to include “all species of animals” under a list of 75 “orders, families, subfamilies or genera”.

All of the world’s rhino species are on the expanded list. It adds the Indian and Asian elephant, and a range of other species from the American bison to the Himalayan tahr.

How animals are slaughtered – not if it’s legal

Getaway’s article was published on 6 May, but by this time the department of agriculture had already dismissed claims that the proposed amendment would make it legal to eat protected species. In a 30 April statement the department said that the Meat Safety Act “does not make any decisions on which animals are to be slaughtered”.

Rather, the act regulates how animals should be slaughtered, if it’s legal to do so.

“Contrary to some misconceptions regarding the purpose of the amendment of the schedule, the addition of more animals to the list will allow the regulators to have more control on how animals are slaughtered for human and animal consumption,” the department says.

“Listing an animal in the Schedule therefore does not encourage the slaughter of those listed animals.” 

It adds that a “decision on which animal can be slaughtered lies outside of the mandate of the Meat Safety Act”.

“The slaughter of animals ... is subject to permissions of relevant other legislations, including conservation, food control, environmental health and animal welfare legislations.”

The department has extended the deadline for comment on the amendment to 30 June.

Protection of endangered species

Endangered, threatened and otherwise protected species are covered by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and, in particular, its schedule of threatened or protected species regulations.

Those regulations are extensive and would continue to supersede any amendment to the Meat Safety Act, the department said.

They list restricted activities allowed only with a permit, which has stringent conditions. These include “hunting, catching, capturing or killing any living specimen of a listed threatened or protected species by any means, method or device whatsoever”. 

The South African government is not aiming to legalise rhino consumption. – Keegan Leech


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