Listeriosis, a wake-up call for Africa


The rising death toll of the listeriosis outbreak should be a wake-up call not only to South Africa, but Africa as a whole.  The epidemic says a lot about our decisions on healthy lifestyles and our dependency on animal-based protein.  For Africa to move forward, we need to really think about the foods we consume and what we feed our children.  Adopting a plant-based approach on your plate is one of the most powerful and positively impactful choices you can make as a conscious consumer and parent.

Southern Africa’s listeriosis crisis has claimed 183 lives to date.  Listeriosis has been detected in polony and several other meat products from South Africa and these products have been recalled from food stores.

But this is not the first time meat products have come under the spotlight, particularly in South Africa. In 2013, top local researchers found “fraudulent meat products” and false food labelling at popular food stores across the country.

Researchers found certain meat ingredients were not declared on product labels. Soya, donkey, goat and water buffalo were detected in 68 percent of the 139 minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats tested.  Overall, pork was the most common undeclared animal species detected in the meat products, which angered many religious groups that do not eat pork.  Researchers used various DNA-based molecular techniques to test the extent of meat product mis-labelling.

The research was conducted in four provinces and included “all the major retailers” and some smaller ones.  The findings raised significant concern on the functioning of the meat supply chain in South Africa.

The researchers found undeclared species present in meat products due to accidental cross-contamination and deliberate substitution resulting in considerable financial, religious, ethical and public health ramifications.

In sub-Saharan Africa, one billion people consume $70bn [R834 billion] worth of milk and meat protein.  A new food category is emerging that can assist in helping Africa meet its protein needs in a more nutritious, safe and environmentally friendly way: plant-based protein products.

Innovators such as Beyond Meat, JUST and Ripple Foods are developing authentic tasting milk, meat and egg substitutes made from plants.  Plant-based protein can be a solution to decreasing our dependency on meat products and help fight malnutrition on the continent.

Infinite Foods is a manufacturer of plant-based products across sub-Saharan Africa and its primary objective is to decrease dependency on animal-based protein in Africa.

There is a better way to feed the planet.  Replacing meat with plant-based protein would not only benefit human health, but also support the environment and Africa’s natural resources.

It takes roughly 8 kgs of grain to produce 1kg of beef, 4 kgs of grain to produce 1kg of pork, and about 2.5kgs of grain to produce 1kg of chicken. The way the world produces meat today is taking an enormous toll on our planet.

Agriculture uses 37% of all land and over 70% of all freshwater on earth; and creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes combined.  Of that, 80% of agricultural land is used in livestock production.  Compared to cows, plant-based meat uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Plant-based protein products also tend to be lower in cholesterol, calories and saturated fat than their animal-based equivalents.  Mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein are emerging.

The emergence of plant-based protein foods also provides the opportunity to spur economic diversification and youth employment.  Combining technology, capacity-building and investments with agricultural projects will enable the continent to become more food-secure, and reduce the risk of conflict, famine and malnutrition.

This effort will also help find a long-term solution to the escalating food crisis in Africa and bring to life the UN’s 2030 vision of ending hunger and malnutrition. For parents, it will also ease our minds in knowing that our children are eating food that is healthy and safe.  Reducing our dependence on animal-based foods will reduce our risk of animal-borne diseases such as listeriosis and help ensure we have a long-term sustainable planet.

 Michelle Adelman is an advocate for plant-based protein foods in Africa