Larvicide testing for blackfly control

Testing the blackfly organophosphate larvicide Abate® for viability in the Orange River Blackfly Control Programme

Industry Sector: Cattle And Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Health and Welfare

Research Institute: University of KwaZulu-Natal

Researcher: Dr Nicholas Rivers-Moore PhD

Research Team:

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Dr Helen Dallas PhD
Dr Robert Palmer PhD
Mr Shahin Naidoo BSc (Hons)
Ms Esther Ndou BSc (Hons)

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To confirm non-resistance to Abate in the Orange River pest blackfly populations;
  • To investigate the potential for re-activation of Abate as an alternative larvicide to Vectobac for control under high-flow conditions.

Executive Summary

Downstream flow alteration resulting from river impoundment or inter-basin transfer schemes, while improving water supply assurance levels, has been shown to have negative ecological consequences, including outbreaks in pest blackfly.  Outbreaks along the middle and lower Orange River have the potential to cause losses to livestock production estimated at US$13.3 million per annum (Rivers-Moore et al. 2014).  This figure is a conservative estimate as it excludes losses in the tourism and irrigated agricultural sectors through lost revenue and labour days.  Economic losses occur approximately 1200 km along the middle and lower reaches of the Orange River (Palmer 1997).  This is the river segment downstream of Van Der Kloof Dam, the major impoundment regulating flows in the Orange River.  The major pest species is Simulium chutteri, with more than 250 breeding sites (riffles) identified along the affected river sections, however S. damnosumS. nigritarse and S. adersi are also of concern (de Moor 1994, and citing others).

The Orange River Blackfly Control Programme, established in the early 1990s, was originally based on alternating use of two larvicides, viz. a bacterial larvicide (Vectobac®) and an organophosphate (Abate®; active ingredient is Temephos).  This programme extends over some 850 km of the middle and lower Orange River, where 148 rapids have been identified as optimal breeding habitat for pest blackfly species (Palmer et al. 2007).  The success of the control programme depends largely on correct timing of larvicide applications.  It is based on monitoring using a ten-point scoring system for larval and pupal densities developed by Palmer (1994), which is scientifically robust and user-friendly.  Larval density data are scored by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF; Upington and De Aar regional offices) on a two-weekly basis, using the 10 point scale developed by Palmer (1994), reflecting seasonal changes of larval densities of the main blackfly pest complex comprising Simulium chutteri and S. damnosum.  The blackfly control programme along the middle and lower Orange River is based on aerial applications of larvicides to control the pest species Simulium chutteri.  Larvicides are generally applied three times in autumn and six times in spring (Palmer and Palmer 1995).  The two larvicides registered for blackfly control in South Africa are Vectobac® (produced from the naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis (Bti)and Abate® (organophosphate temephos) (Palmer and Palmer 1995).  However, wide scale application of the Abate larvicide, and blackfly larvae’s continuous exposure to it, has resulted in resistance being developed (Palmer and Palmer 1995).

Both larvicide options had advantages and drawbacks to their use.  In the case of Vectobac, the likelihood of pest blackfly developing resistance was low, but the higher viscosity and lower concentration of this larvicide in solution came with drawbacks including the need for more helicopter doses and clogging of nozzles.  While Abate does not result in these application drawbacks due to its more concentrated, lower viscosity formulation, its over-use was cautioned against because of the higher likelihood of resistance developing in Simulium chutteri.

By 2005, due to overuse of Abate, larvicidal resis been confirmed (Palmer et al. 2007), and a study completed in 2007 was unable to recommend any viable alternatives.  With ten years after the last use of Abate in the Orange River, it was hypothesized that larval resistance had diminished to the point where Abate could be used again.  During this period, where blackfly take 12-24 days to complete a life cycle, there is likely to have been at least 120-240 generations.  The purpose of this study was to establish whether blackfly larval resistance to Abate has subsided, thereby re-establishing a second larvicidal alternative for blackfly control on the Orange River.


In the Great Fish River trials, larvae were a mixture of Simulium damnosum and S. chutteri in approximately a 3:1 ratio, while the reverse applied to pupae, and pupae dominated. Stock populations of blackfly larvae for the larvicide trials were low, with median values on the reeds sampled being 6.5 ± 1.4. Turbidity was relatively high, and flow rates were very low. Water was slightly alkaline, but with very high conductivity. In the Orange River, larvae were dominated by S. chutteri, with S. damnosum present, while pupal cases were almost exclusively S. damnosum with few S. chutteri present. Stock populations of blackfly larvae for the larvicide trials were higher than in the Great Fish River, with median values on the reeds sampled being 4.0 ± 1.4. Turbidity was relatively low, with prolific algal growth on rocks. Flow rates in the main river channel were normal; water was slightly alkaline, with conductivity comparable between river channel and irrigation canal.

Two concentrations of Abate were used: 0.3 mg.l-1 0.5 mg.l-1. Gutter trials of the efficacy of Abate on blackfly in the Great Fish River confirmed viability of the product, with mortalities of 95 and 97% respectively. Trials on Orange River populations showed similar trends at the same concentrations of larvicide. In all instances, declines in density classes were statistically significant (p < 0.05). In contrast, the class changes in the controls were not statistically significant (p < 0.05).


A downward change in density classes of blackfly larvae is expected to occur in both the control and trial gutter channels, due to a degree of downstream drift, where some larvae are dislodged and wash out of the gutters.  Despite this, there was a clear differentiation between changes in density scores between control sample populations and samples exposed to larvicide.  Not only was the viability of the Abate stocks confirmed after prolonged storage, but mortalities on the Orange River were significantly marked to indicate that larval resistance has subsided for concentrations of 0.3-0.5 mg.l-1.  In the project proposal, the original intention was to conduct larvicide trials on blackfly mortalities at a range of concentrations (0, 0.5, 1.0, 5.0 and 20.0 mg.l-1).  This range of concentrations was designed to range from the dosage concentration recommended by the manufacturers of Abate (0.10 ppm = 0.1 mg.l-1 or 30l per 100m3 where flows can be accurately determined), to higher concentrations to enable confirmation of larvicidal viability.  In this study, undertaking this full spectrum of trials was not possible due to the limited numbers of blackfly larvae available.  Additionally, it was demonstrated that Abate was effective at concentrations of 0.3-0.5 mg.l-1, which is within the magnitude of range recommended by the manufactures of Abate.

After a dormancy period of 10-15 years, blackfly larval resistance in the Orange River appears to no longer be a constraint in the use of Abate for blackfly control in the Orange River.

Objective Statement

  • Aim 1 (confirm non-resistance to Abate in the Orange River pest blackfly populations) has been successfully achieved.
  • Aim 2 (investigate the potential for re-activation of Abate as an alternative larvicide to Vectobac for control under high-flow conditions) will be an ongoing process. The Upington DAFF staff assisted with field trials. Further discussion will be required with DAFF (Upington and head office).


New hope for reintroduction of second larvicide to control muggies on the Orange River

Dr. Nick Rivers-Moore.

Red Meat Research and Development SA funded a recently completed study that tested a second larvicide for controlling pest blackfly on the middle and lower Orange River.  Mnr. Hoffie Joubert from KLK was also instrumental in assisting with project supplies.  While the larvicide is not new, it became ineffective in the mid-2000s for controlling pest blackfly here, because of a build-up of resistance to the product in the local blackfly population.  This means that only one larvicide, a bacterial larvicide called Vectobac, has been available for controlling blackfly for the past 10-15 years.  The Orange River Blackfly Control Programme, established in the early 1990s, was originally based on alternating use of two larvicides – a bacterial larvicide (Vectobac®) and an organophosphate (Abate®).  Both options had advantages and drawbacks to their use.  In the case of Vectobac, the likelihood of pest blackfly developing resistance was low, but the higher viscosity and lower concentration of this larvicide in solution came with drawbacks including the need for more helicopter doses, clogging of applicator nozzles.  While Abate does not result in these application drawbacks due to its more concentrated, lower viscosity formulation, its over-use was cautioned against because of the higher likelihood of resistance developing in Simulium chutteri.

By 2005, due to overuse of Abate, larvicidal resistance had been confirmed, and a study completed in 2007 was unable to recommend any viable alternatives.  With more than ten years after the last use of Abate in the Orange River, it was hypothesized that larval resistance had diminished to the point where Abate could be used again.  During this period, where blackfly take 12-24 days to complete a life cycle, there is likely to have been a few hundred generations, with resistance being bred out.

Dr Nick Rivers-Moore, an aquatic ecologist with fifteen years of research expertise on blackfly ecology, recently re-tested the efficacy of the larvicide Abate on pest blackfly.  This was first tested for product viability at a site about half an hour’s drive from Grahamstown on Great Fish River.  Here, the same species of blackfly which cause the outbreak problems on the Orange River have not been exposed to Abate.  Next, the gutter trials were repeated on the Orange River near Upington in the Northern Cape.  In all trials, larval mortalities were significant after application of the larvicide.  Dr Rivers-Moore said that “after a dormancy period of 10-15 years, blackfly larval resistance in the Orange River appears to no longer be a constraint in the use of Abate for blackfly control in the Orange River.”  These results were met with enthusiasm by the Blackfly Control Programme officers in the Upington DAFF office.  However, he says that “it is recommended that upscaling of these results is considered prior to re-introduction of Abate as a second larvicide for controlling pest blackfly on the Orange River.”

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –
Nicholas Rivers-Moore on blackfly1@vodamailcom

Nick Rivers-Moore

Supplementation of ruminants on winter pastures

Supplementation of ruminants on winter pastures

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Livestock production with global competitiveness

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Prof Willem.A. van Niekerk PhD (Agric) Animal Science

Research Team:

TitleInitialsSurnameHighest Qualification
ProfLourens. J.ErasmusPhD (Agric) Animal Science
PhD (Agric) Animal Science
MSc (Agric) Animal Science
MrHMynhardtMSc (Agric) Animal Science

Final report approved: 2016

Aims of the project

  • To develop a cost-effective supplementation strategy for ruminants under low quality winter forage conditions
  • To maintain body weight during the wineter season by assessing different sources and levels of nutrients that enhances poor quality roughage utilisation
  • To investigate intake, fiber degradation and microbial protein production when various types and levels of nutrients are supplemented to ruminants kept at maintenance under extensive conditions

Executive Summary

A series of studies was conducted to evaluate differential energy and nitrogen (N) sources as supplemental feed to sheep grazing low quality winter grazing in the High veldt. Knowledge on supplementation under local conditions are limiting as the majority of supplementation studies are funded and performed in the more temperate areas. Results indicated that higher N and energy inclusion levels are necessary to optimize ruminant production under local conditions compared to temperate areas. In addition, the ratio of fermentable energy to available protein is an important parameter in optimizing supplementation programs. It is concluded that the supplementary recommendations from the current feeding tables does not describe the requirements and nutrient quality of the tropical grasses satisfactorily and as such, cannot be used to predict supplementation responses by the tropical forage fed ruminant.  del can be used for further sensitivity analyses and “what if” scenarios as well as a database to answer specific questions.




Every year sheep might lose up to 30% of their summer body weight gain during the dry winter periods in the high veldt.  While these weight losses have an economic impact on its own, it also is associated with an increased susceptibility for diseases and parasitic infestations and decreased reproductive performances. It generally is considered that protein or non-protein nitrogen (NPN) supplementation is necessary to limit these weight losses during these periods. However, due to the type of grass found in the High veldt area of Southern Africa, data is limiting on the effects of supplementation of ruminants grazing these types of grasses (See box: Differences between C4 and C3 grasses). As such, supplementations recommendations derived from current feeding tables seldom satisfy the needs of the grazing ruminant in Southern Africa. Therefore, a series of studies was conducted at the University of Pretoria to determine and quantify the requirements of the ruminant grazing low quality Eragrostis curvula hay commonly found in the Southern Africa High veldt.

* References and correspondence can be obtained from the author:

Box 1: Differences between C4 and C3 Grasses

The acronyms C3 and C4 refer to the first product of the photosynthetic processes in the respective grasses with the first product of photosynthesis in the C3 grass being phosphoglycerate (a 3 carbon structure) while for the C4 plant, the corresponding molecule is a 4 carbon molecule (oxaloacetate). C3 grasses are temperate grasses and are adapted to the temperate regions of the world where rainfall is more constant with maximum temperatures seldom topping 22 OC. In contrast, C4 grasses are more adapted to the subtropical and tropical climates with temperatures frequently topping 25oC during the growth period. These areas also are associated with seasonal droughts and the occasional frost. Due to these extremes in temperatures and seasonal droughts, C4 grasses contain more bundle sheath cells and less available nutrients compared to C3 grasses during all maturity stages. Ruminant production therefore in general is significantly lower in ruminants grazing C4 grasses compared to temperate C3 grasses, especially during the dormant stage of the grass where lignification of the C4 grasses reduces the availability of the nutrients even further. As such, supplementation requirements and responses differ between ruminants grazing these grasses. However, the majority of supplementation studies in the past have been conducted on C3 grasses as it is found more in the European countries where research funding is more available. As such, as more studies conducted on low quality C3 grasses are incorporated in the current feeding tables, supplementation requirements derived from these tables to the low quality tropical forage fed ruminant are not always accurate. As such, the need was established to conduct research through the financial support of the **RMRD-SA on the nutritional requirements of the low quality tropical forage fed ruminant in order to improve ruminant production in Southern Africa.

*RMRD -SA – Red Meat and Research Development, South Africa

Results and Discussion

Forage intake and digestibility was not influenced by either the level of urea or starch supplementation to the wethers. However, CP-balance, measured as CP intake – CP excretion in the faeces and urine, increased from 12.5 g CP/day in the LU wethers up to 70 g CP/day in the EHU wethers. Based on these observations, only the EHU treatment supplied sufficient protein to potentially satisfy the needs of the 50 kg wethers as they require 65 – 70 g CP for maintenance. These recommendations are significantly higher than the recommendations set in the current feeding standards, however, it is in alignment with the observations and recommendations set out by **Leng (1995) studying ruminants grazing tropical grasses in Australia.

Forage intake and digestibility was not influenced by either the level of urea or starch supplementation to the wethers. However, CP-balance, measured as CP intake – CP excretion in the faeces and urine, increased from 12.5 g CP/day in the LU wethers up to 70 g CP/day in the EHU wethers. Based on these observations, only the EHU treatment supplied sufficient protein to potentially satisfy the needs of the 50 kg wethers as they require 65 – 70 g CP for maintenance. These recommendations are significantly higher than the recommendations set in the current feeding standards, however, it is in alignment with the observations and recommendations set out by **Leng (1995) studying ruminants grazing tropical grasses in Australia.


An important parameter in ruminant nutrition is microbial protein synthesis (MPS) as it gives an indication of the efficiency of the rumen microbes. During the dry winter months, MPS generally decreases due to the lack of available nutrients in the roughages (Leng, 1990, 1995) which decreases the productivity of the animal which is experienced as weight loss by the farmer.  In this study, MPS increased almost 50% from 78 g MPS to 106 g MPS as the level of starch supplemented was increased from 200 (LS) to 280 (HS) g starch/day. This observation is in agreement with suggestions made by Leng, (1990; 1995) that energy is an important nutrient driving MPS in the tropical forage fed ruminant, provided that the protein requirements of the ruminant have been met. Interestingly, energy supplementation for the temperate forage fed ruminant is not always advocated as these grasses contain higher concentrations of water soluble carbohydrates compared to the tropical grass.

Based on the above results, higher levels of both protein and energy supplementation is necessary to optimise ruminant production during the dry winter months in the High Veldt. The question now was asked whether there was an “ideal” quantity of protein and energy to be supplemented to ruminants grazing low quality “tropical” forages.

Graph 1 is a schematic representation of MPS per unit CP intake (MNS: N intake) while Graph 2 represents the mean rumen ammonia nitrogen (RAN) concentration as influenced by the ratio of starch supplemented to available protein intake.

Graph 1

Urea supplementation across all three starch treatments affected the MPS: CP ratio similarly with the ratio decreasing from almost 3 to below 1 where the wethers were supplemented with the higher urea treatments (HU and EHU). It is important to note that alleviated MPS: CP levels (above 1) could be indicative of CP deficiency as more microbial protein was synthesized in the rumen compared to dietary CP intake. The additional CP required to produce the microbial protein under these circumstances is derived from body protein catabolism which in itself, is an inefficient process, resulting in an excessive body weight loss. As such, in this trial, it is suggested that the protein intake of the wethers supplemented with at least 26.4 g urea/day (HU) was sufficient to meet the requirements of the wethers.

Graph 2

An inverse relationship was observed between RAN and the ratio of starch: digestible protein intake (Graph 2) with RAN decreasing and plateau between 5 and 10 mg RAN/ dL rumen fluid as the ratio increased. An inflexion point was observed where RAN increased exponentially to levels as high as 25 and even 30 mg RAN/dL rumen fluid as the ratio decreased below 2: 1. This graph highlights the importance of supplementation of both rumen available energy sources (starch in this instance) as the supplementation of only RDP sources to the ruminant could lead to an increased risk of ammonia toxicity under these circumstances.


The results from this study suggest that the supplementation requirements of 50 kg wethers grazing low quality tropical forages (2.7% CP) differs to the current feeding standards as:

  • Higher levels of protein (urea supplementation up to 26.4 g urea per day per wether or 3% urea of the total DM intake) is necessary to optimise CP balance in the tropical forage ruminant.
  • Starch supplementation (up to 280 g/wether/day or almost 20% of the total DM intake) in addition to urea supplementation is necessary as tropical grasses not only are deficient in protein, but also in easy available energy.
  • For wethers grazing low quality tropical grasses, the ideal ratio of starch supplemented to digestible protein intake lies between 2 and 3: 1.
  • Additional research is necessary to study the effects of other energy sources and protein sources on rumen environment and the production parameters of the tropical forage fed ruminant as these sources might have different availabilities compared to urea and pure starch within the rumen.

The authors wish to thank the Red Meat Industry and Research Development (RMRD) for their financial support of this study.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –
Willem van Niekerk on

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in beef

Prevalence and risk factors of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli serotypes in beef at abattoirs and retail outlets in Gauteng

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Red Meat Safety, Nutritional Value, Consumerism and Consumer Behaviour

Research Institute: Department of Production Animal Studies, University of Pretoria

Researcher: Prof. Peter Thompson Ph.D.

The Research Team


Year of completion : 2017

Aims of the project

  • To determine the prevalence O157 and non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in beef abattoirs in Gauteng
  • To determine the prevalence O157 and non-O157 STEC in beef and beef products at retail outlets in Gauteng
  • To identify the important STEC serotypes present in beef and beef products in Gauteng
  • To identify risk factors for STEC contamination of carcasses and beef products in Gauteng

Executive Summary

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), particularly the O157 strains, are food-borne zoonotic pathogens of public health importance worldwide. Foods of cattle origin have been implicated in various outbreaks and epidemiological studies have revealed that cattle are major reservoirs of STEC. We conducted cross-sectional surveys from Nov 2015 to Nov 2016, to investigate the prevalence and molecular characteristics of O157 and non-O157 strains of STEC in beef and beef products in the Gauteng province of South Africa.

A total of 265 swab samples of beef carcasses from 12 abattoirs and 399 beef products from 31 retail outlets were screened for STEC using a multiplex PCR. The overall prevalence in abattoir samples was 37% (55/149) in summer and 34% (39/116) in winter. In beef products at retail outlets it was 20% (27/137) in autumn, 14% (18/130) in winter and 17% (22/132) in summer; the highest prevalence was detected in boerewors (35%) followed by mincemeat (21%). The predominant serotypes detected were O113 (19.4%) and O157 (14.9%) in beef products, and O113 (14%) from abattoirs.

Our results demonstrate that STEC is present in South African beef and beef products, and that this may pose a real food-borne disease threat. Further investigation of the epidemiology of the pathogen is required; it is proposed that this take the form of longitudinal studies to investigate the prevalence of shedding of STEC by cattle in the feedlot, following them through to the abattoir to determine factors associated with carcass contamination.

Additional Comments

As this is part of a PhD project, further molecular work is still to be done on the isolates, resulting in further planned publications. The samples also provided material for an MSc student (funded by UP research funds) to work on Salmonella contamination – these results will also be made available to RMRDSA once finalized.

Popular Article

Assessing the prevalence of shiga toxin-producing escherichia coli in beef at abattoirs and retail outlets in gauteng

Dr Lorinda Frylinck, Senior Navorser, LNR-Diere Produksie, Irene.


The production of safe and wholesome beef and beef-derived food products is the highest priority for the beef industry in South Africa. There are potential risks associated with the possible presence of harmful pathogens in the food production chain; however, clear guidelines and regulations have been implemented to reduce these risks to a minimum and ensure a safe product for consumers. Nevertheless it remains important to continually assess these risks and to ensure effective implementation of control measures.

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are bacteria associated with food and waterborne diseases and have been recognized as causing public health problems worldwide. The WHO Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) reported that ‘Foodborne STEC’ caused more than 1 million illnesses and 128 deaths in 2010 (8).

Of the over 470 different serotypes of STEC detected in humans, the O157:H7 serotype is the most frequently associated with large food and water-borne outbreaks (7). However, non-O157 STEC have been increasingly isolated from cases of haemorrhagic colitis (severe GIT infection and bloody diarrhoea) and as well as some fatal kidney failure (HUS; haemolytic uraemic syndrome) cases.

Although the first report of the occurrence of HUS in South Africa dated as far back as 1968 (6), the causative agent was poorly understood at that time. The first clinically proven incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in South Africa was later linked with haemorrhagic colitis (3). The importance of the pathogen in South Africa and other southern African countries has, however, been highlighted by subsequent major outbreaks of bloody diarrhoea in which E. coli O157 strains were implicated (4). Of particular interest was a study in Gauteng province in 2011, in which 7.7% of children with diarrhoea were positive for E. coli O157 (5).

Epidemiological investigations have revealed that cattle are a major reservoir of STEC. Many outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 have been associated with beef, in particular ground beef, and analyses of some cases have identified undercooked beef as a significant risk factor. However, the fact that E. coli-associated conditions in humans, such as HUS, are not as yet notifiable in South Africa may mean that the occurrence of STEC-associated disease in humans is under-reported. In addition, given the weight of evidence from elsewhere in the world, it is possible that contamination of beef products is also a risk factor in South Africa.

Research problem and objectives

There is a dearth of current information on the frequency of occurrence of O157 and non-O157 strains of STEC, and on the risk they pose to consumers of beef products, in South Africa. Hence, the objective of this study was to determine the prevalence and characteristics of O157 and non-O157 STEC strains in beef carcass and beef products sold at retail outlets in the Gauteng province of South Africa.

Materials and Methods

During a one-year period from Nov 2015 to Nov 2016, two independent cross-sectional surveys were carried out to determine the prevalence of STEC at abattoirs as well as at retail outlets where beef-based food products are sold.

Study 1: Twelve abattoirs (six high throughput and six low throughput) were selected and each was visited during summer and winter months for sample collection. Five animals were randomly selected in each abattoir and tagged for sample collection. Firstly, samples were collected by swabbing the skin of the perineal area immediately after slaughter. Thereafter, carcass swab samples were collected from different parts of the carcass at various stages during processing, including pre-evisceration, post-evisceration, post-washing and 24 hours post-chilling.

Beef carcass sampling and processing at the abattoir

Study 2: A total of 31 retail outlets including both large supermarket chains and smaller butcheries were randomly selected. Visits were made to each of these outlets during autumn, winter and summer months of 2016 for sample collection. Sampling of five types of popular beef products (brisket, boerewors, mince, cold meat, and biltong) was done at each outlet during each visit.

Each sample was analyzed for the presence of Shiga toxin-encoding genes (stx1and stx2) using conventional multiplex PCR. All samples positive for stx genes based on PCR were screened for the following O-serotypes: O26, O91, O103, O111, O113, O145 and O157 using a multiplex PCR assay.

Results and Discussion

Overall, the prevalence of STEC in beef carcass swabs collected from 12 red meat abattoirs across Gauteng province during summer and winter months was 35.5% (94/265). The highest prevalence (50%) was detected in perineal samples, which is hardly a surprise because cattle are an established reservoir of STEC; this may therefore reflect the prevalence of the pathogen in cattle arriving at abattoirs. Transportation stress is known to increase the shedding of enteric pathogens and could therefore be a contributing factor to the observed high prevalence in perineal samples. STEC was found in 39% of both pre-evisceration and post-evisceration carcasses, while washed carcasses and 24 hour chilled carcasses had a lower prevalence of 23% and 20% respectively. Therefore, although washing of carcasses at the abattoir removed much of the STEC contamination, the fact that the bacteria were still present on the surface of some chilled carcasses is of potential food safety significance, since cuts from these carcasses end up for sale in various forms at retail outlets.

Boerewors on display in a retail outlet

Of the 399 beef products sampled from 31 retail outlets, 67 (16.8%) were contaminated by STEC strains, an observation that is of food safety significance if such products were to be improperly cooked and consumed by highly susceptible individuals.

The highest prevalence of STEC was detected in boerewors (35%), followed by minced meat (21%). Ground beef ordinarily includes meat from many carcasses; consequently a few infected livestock could potentially contaminate a great quantity of ground beef. Biltong had the lowest prevalence of contamination (5%), while brisket and cold meat had 11% and 6% respectively. These results are in contrast to a previous study in South Africa, in 2009, involving biltong, cold meat and minced meat at retail outlets, which found that 2.8% of the samples were positive for E. coli O157 (1).

The prevalence of STEC in abattoir and retail outlet samples was somewhat higher during the summer months compared to the winter months. While many factors are believed to affect the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7, only season has been consistently shown to impact the shedding of this bacterium by cattle (2), and some previous studies have also observed a higher prevalence of shedding during the warmer months than the winter months.

The serotype analysis showed that O113 was the post prevalent serotype both on beef carcasses (14%) as well as in beef-based products (19%). This observation is of particular interest considering that O113 is an emerging serotype associated with human illness and sometimes with HUS in several countries including Spain, Belgium and Australia. Serotype O113 of STEC may therefore potentially be important in human diseases in South Africa and this requires further studies. Some of the other serotypes detected  have also previously been implicated in human diseases elsewhere in the world.

Unlike in abattoir samples where the prevalence of serotype O157 was very low (1%), a higher prevalence of 15% was detected in retail meat samples. This finding may be explained in part by the fact that the current study was cross-sectional by design (giving a “snapshot” at a particular point in time) and not a longitudinal study. Therefore serotype O157-contaminated beef products may have originated from abattoirs not sampled in the current study, and the prevalence may vary greatly between places and over time. There is also a possibility that it may partially also be a result of contamination from other sources at the retail outlet level.

Mince meat on display in a retail outlet


This study has shown that contamination of beef products with potentially harmful bacteria can occur during different processing stages. The low numbers of reported cases of food-associated disease in South Africa suggest that the risk to consumers is low; however, it is not known whether all cases are reported, or that all cases are correctly diagnosed. Therefore, further research is needed in order better understand the dynamics of foodborne pathogens in South Africa, to accurately assess the risk they pose, and to accurately inform control measures.

It is well known that efficient implementation of control measures during slaughter and processing procedures can greatly reduce meat surface microbial contamination and ensure the safety of the final product. The South African Meat Safety Act (2000) has addressed potential risk factors by adopting several internationally recognized preventive measures such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in order to promote safe meat for consumers. The application of GMP and HACCP principles during handling and processing of products, as well as the proper cooking of meat products before consumption, will effectively reduce the threat of food borne disease.


We thank Red Meat Research and Development South Africa (RMRD SA) for funding this research and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for granting us access and assistance to carry out the cross-sectional survey at the abattoirs.


  1. Abong’o, B.O. and Momba, M.N., 2009. Prevalence and characterization of Escherichia coli O157: H7 isolates from meat and meat products sold in Amathole District, Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Food Microbiology, 26(2), pp.173-176.
  2. Berry, E.D. and Wells, J.E., 2010. Escherichia coli O157: H7: recent advances in research on occurrence, transmission, and control in cattle and the production environment. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, 60, pp.67-117.
  3. Browning, N.G., Botha, J.R., Sacho, H. and Moore, P.J., 1990. Escherichia coli O157: H7 haemorrhagic colitis. Report of the first South African case. South African Journal of Surgery, 28(1), pp.28-29.
  4. Effler, E., Isaäcson, M., Arntzen, L., Heenan, R., Canter, P., Barrett, T., Lee, L., Mambo, C., Levine, W., Zaidi, A. and Griffin, P.M., 2001. Factors contributing to the emergence of Escherichia coli O157 in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 7(5), p.812.
  5. Galane, P.M. and Le Roux, M., 2001. Molecular epidemiology of Escherichia coli isolated from young South African children with diarrhoeal diseases. Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, 19(1), pp.31-38.
  6. Kiibel, P.J., 1968. The haemolytic-uraemia syndrome: a survey in Southern Africa. South African Medical Journal, 42(27), pp.692-698.
  7. Mora, A., Herrera, A., López, C., Dahbi, G., Mamani, R., Pita, J.M., Alonso, M.P., Llovo, J., Bernárdez, M.I., Blanco, J.E. and Blanco, M., 2011. Characteristics of the Shiga-toxin-producing enteroaggregative Escherichia coli O104: H4 German outbreak strain and of STEC strains isolated in Spain. International Microbiology, 14(3), pp.121-141.
  8. WHO [World Health Organization], 2015. WHO estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases. Available at

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Peter Thompson

Formal and Informal Red Meat Industry in the Western Cape

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Regional Inquiry into the Size, Scope and Socioeconomic Effects of the Western Cape’s Formal and Informal Red Meat Industries

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Areas: Animal Health and Welfare; Animal Products, quality and safety, nutritional value and preference; The economics of red meat consumption and production in South Africa

Research Institute: Agriculture Research Institute – Animal Production Institute

Researcher: Dr Nick Vink PhD (Agric)

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Mr. Michael McCullough M

Completion Date : 2018

Aims Of The Project

  • 3.1 To determine and report the size and scope of the informal red meat I industry as well as the informal industry’s effects on food safety, animal health and l welfare and food security with an initial focus on the Western Cape.
  • 3.2 To determine and report the size and scope of the formal red meat industry as well as the formal industry’s effects on food safety, animal welfare and food security with a primary focus on the Western Cape.
  • 3.3 To create and test a combined quantitative and qualitative methodology for determining the size and scope of the red meat industry in South Africa with a primary emphasis on the informal sector, a secondary emphasis on the formal sector as well as recommendations for improving current levels of food safety, animal welfare and food security.

Executive Summary

Hidden in Plain Sight

The genesis of Hidden in Plain Sight was two previous studies of red meat marketing systems: one in a rural Municipality in the Western Cape that discovered an informal shadow industry operating alongside a formal system of abattoirs, supermarkets and independent butcheries; the other in the townships and informal settlements of Cape Town that described an informal marketing system filling a vacuum created by the abdication of the formal system of supermarkets and butcheries. Beyond the scope of both studies was an appreciation of the size and scope of the Province’s informal systems of red meat production, processing and distribution. Hidden in Plain Sight attempts to determine size and scope of the Province’s informal red meat industry, its effects on food security, food safety and animal health and welfare.

Informal livestock farmers pasturing cattle and sheep primarily on Municipal land as well as raising pigs in improvised piggeries furnish livestock for informal processing; i.e. outdoor slaughter and indoor butchery in unlicensed facilities such as home kitchens and food stands. One and two kilo ‘value packs’ are then sold from kitchen butcheries in rural communities. Braai stands located near taxi ranks, train stations and major intersection in the former townships of Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and Nyanga in the Cape Town Metropole receive live animals directly from informal producers located on City land surrounding these communities. The animals are slaughtered on the sidewalk in front the stands or in any other adjacent open space. The muscle meat is sliced into strips and braaied, the heads are skinned, split and charred and the offal is piled on the counter for sale to hawkers or take-home consumers.

The informal system exists in both urban and rural areas to serve the 2.6 million low to very low income households in the Western Cape. In addition to low incomes many urban and rural households live in virtual ‘food deserts’ where, in the absence of transportation either public or private access to food sellers is at best difficult.  Low to very low incomes and lack of access expose over half of the Province’s households to food insecurity and place 29 percent at risk of hunger.

An expectation at the inception of this study was that size and scope of the informal system although unknown would rival the formal red meat system and would be sufficient to serve a significant percentage of the Province’s food insecure households. Such was not the case. Survey data based on inspections of informal production sites throughout the Province, census  and interview data from the Veterinary Service and the Farmer Support and Development programmes of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and interviews with Municipal Social Development officials yield numbers of informal produced livestock clearly insufficient to serve a fraction of households at risk for hunger. Three recommendations are offered to increase the capacity of the informal industry to serve food insecure households: conduct a comprehensive inventory of public land suitable for informal production; establish an informal production, processing and distribution pilot project in each District Municipality; investigate existing parallel formal – informal marketing systems in Latin America; develop a prototype two tiered regulatory frame work to facilitate food security whilst ensuring food safety.


Magazine Article

Michael McCullough

When South African consumers walk into their local supermarket to shop for beef, lamb or pork they expect a fresh, high quality, attractively packaged, nutritious product and they get it. No need to worry about the safety of the product. South African cattle, sheep and pigs are given a through once over before they set foot in an abattoir. Any animal injured, unfit or suspected of disease is promptly rejected, condemned and disposed of. It’s not a business decision, it’s the law.

What supermarket shoppers are beginning to worry about is the possibility the meat they serve their family and friends could come from terrified, abused or injured animals. They want to know that the slaughter process is humane and animal suffering is minimised. That may sound like a contradiction in terms but it’s not. Here’s why:

  • After arrival at the abattoir animals must be rested for at least an hour. The animals must calm and ready for inspection just before they are taken into the abattoir.
  • After passing single file through a narrow corridor each animal is taken individually into a slaughter room and placed in a narrow box or a harness. This happens out of sight of the other animals to reduce stress on those queued up behind.
  • The actual killing must be painless. Animals are stunned with a strong but not fatal electric shock or with a captive bolt pistol that delivers a sharp blow to the animal’s forehead.
  • While the animal is unconscious both the arteries and veins in the neck must be severed quickly and accurately. Contrary to the movies where the victim drops dead just after his throat is cut; if one or more veins or arteries are missed the animal may take from a minute to five minutes to die. If the stun wears off before enough blood is lost to shut down the brain the animal can experience pain.
  • Stunning and wielding the knife is hard, skilled and dangerous work. Humane slaughter depends on workers who are alert and careful. Tired operators may become careless or insensitive to animals’ welfare therefore abattoirs insure their operators take regular rest periods to maintain their skills.

The animal’s carcase is then moved to a high ceilinged room and hoisted head down to finish the bleeding process. The carcase is now ready for butchery. For consumers preferring kosher or halal meat the procedure is slightly different. For kosher slaughter no stunning is allowed but to minimise suffering the arteries, veins, vagus nerve, trachea and oesophagus are severed in a single quick sweep of a very sharp knife. Halal abattoirs may elect to stun the animal. Properly done the animal is unconscious in three seconds because severing the vagus nerve is like shutting down the body’s neurological switchboard.  Flip the switch and the lights go out.

One thing consumers shopping at their neighbourhood supermarket or butchery don’t want to worry about is whether the chops and steaks they’re buying are safe to eat. Should they? After all nobody wants to have friends and family or even worse, their boss over for a braai and find out later that everyone wound up at the clinic with gastric ‘distress’ or worse. This threat is all but completely short-circuited by post slaughter meat inspections, cold chain management and strict hygiene practices from the abattoir to the wholesaler to your butcher to your shopping cart.  Here’s how it works:

  • After the carcase has bled out, the head and hide are removed taking care to make sure the hair side of the hide doesn’t touch the meat. After all the animal has never seen a shower stall so the hide is pretty grimy. For this reason anything that touches the hide shouldn’t touch the meat such as dirty hands, in in the low income housing areas next to most country towns and in densely populated urban communities like Khayelitsha in Cape Town implements, dirty hands or soiled protective clothing.
  • Organs like the gut and the gall bladder contain seriously infectious bacteria like salmonella so the viscera must come out intact (the viscera is the sack that contains digestive tract). If it splits like a cheap trash bag on the way out everything you don’t want to touch the meat goes everywhere including all over the carcase. Assuming everything comes out as planned it’s time for final butchering and trimming.
  • The carcases are halved, the spines removed, all the other inedible bits and pieces as well as any contaminated meat is cut out and discarded. The carcase is washed and chilled. The slaughter and butchering processes are done.

From here to your grill is just a matter of maintaining the cold chain – keeping the carcase clean and chilled — until it passes through the wholesaler’s cold storage on its way to your neighbourhood supermarket or butchery. The carcase is then cut into meal sized portions, wrapped, marked, priced and put in the display case. Done and dusted.

Just as every coin has two sides so does every industry. The meat industry is no exception. The formal, visible side of the industry serves the middle and upper classes and the informal, mostly invisible side serves everyone else.

When low to very low income consumers shop for beef, lamb or pork do they expect high quality and fancy packaging?  Do their questions about nutrition go much further than Will it satisfy my family’s hunger or not?  Does price matter more to this consumer than where the animal came from, what condition it was in and how did it die? It’s safe to say that putting enough affordable on the table comes first; nothing else really counts.

For these reasons a growing number of South Africans are turning away from supermarkets and butcheries to buy meat produced and processed in their own communities. Why are a growing number of consumers in low income urban communities bypassing abattoirs, supermarkets and butcheries?

Until recently not much was known about the informal red meat industry in the rural Western Cape. It was not completely invisible but rather operated in the shadows just out of sight of most supermarket and butchery shoppers.  Informal stock producers who supply this industry aren’t usually landowners and depend heavily on leased Municipal property adjacent to low income housing areas and shanty towns. Cattle and sheep producers graze their animals where they can find grass and water. However pig producers must confine their animals to keep them from roaming. They build pens from scraps of lumber, sheet metal or other discarded building materials. Pig can’t be kept just anywhere; they need a source of water for mud to wallow in during the warm months (they don’t sweat enough to keep cool). The smell of an informal pig kraal is unforgettable so most are located away from housing. Although neighbours don’t seem to mind cows or sheep wandering through the community they usually draw the line at somebody else’s pig rooting in their garden.

When an informal producer is ready kill a pig, for example he or she spreads the word and takes orders. When it comes time to slaughter the producer recruits several volunteers; puts a barrel or large pot of water to boil on a wood fire and brings the pig forth. The pig is stunned by one or more blows between the eyes with a heavy hammer. A long sharp knife is inserted to the hilt just above the breastbone, twisted vigorously and pulled out. If all goes well (and it sometimes doesn’t) the pig will bleed out rapidly. Unfortunately most informal sites don’t have a convenient tree to hoist the pig so that it bleeds out completely. It’s often left on the ground to ooze blood until the time seems right to dip the carcase into the hot water to loosen the hair and underlying membrane. After the hair is scraped off down to the white skin it’s time to remove the head, the viscera and the rest of the internal organs. The pig should be hung for a day and allowed to cool. In practice this seldom happens. A carcase hanging from a tree overnight is likely to attract unwanted attention from the authorities. So the carcase is immediately butchered into saleable portions, refrigerated or frozen if possible and sold to local consumers. The helpers are usually rewarded with a share of the meat, the head and the offal.

The routine for cattle and sheep is similar except for the extra volunteers needed to handle a 150 kg cow carcase. Cow hides are removed with a knife and sheep skins are pulled off by hand. Unlike a pig no boiling and scraping is necessary.  Contamination from faeces and urine is hard to avoid and accidents often occur when the processing crew is tugging the heavy, slippery viscera out of the gut cavity not to mention the near certainty of hair and dirt on the meat. The carcase is usually rinsed with water carried to the slaughter site in buckets.  Given the rough ad tumble nature of informal slaughter it’s surprising that reported cases of food poisoning from informally sourced red meat are so rare as to be non-existent.

In Khayelitsha, a large densely populated suburb of Cape Town the informal system is not only out of the shadows it’s out loud and proud. Next to every train station, taxi rank and surrounding every major street intersection sidewalk braai stands do a thriving business in grilled beef, pork and mutton. Tens of thousands of commuters stop by these stands every day to pick up a takeaway meal on the way to and from work. Think off these stands as fast food outlets for the black urban working class. Just like the ‘McWhatevers’ in other neighbourhoods      braai stands offer accessible and  affordable (but not necessarily inexpensive) meat to consumers without the means or time to buy meat fresh, take it home, refrigerate it and cook it later. The big difference between fast food outlets in neighbourhoods like Khayelitsha and outlets other less crowded and more affluent neighbourhoods is how the meat gets there and what happens when it arrives.

Live animals are brought in from surrounding communities and slaughtered on sidewalks in front of the stands, alleys behind the stands or any unoccupied space. A source of water to rinse the carcases is strictly optional. The muscle meat is sliced into strips and immediately grilled. The heads are skinned or scraped, split and charred for serving. The offal is piled on tables and sold to customers for home consumption.

To outsiders the scene is a bloody, chaotic and cruel public health disaster. Are there issues with quality? Yes. Nutrition? Absolutely. Packaging? Of course. Safety? Afraid so. Access? No. Affordability? No. To Khayelitsha residents braai stands are a local informal industry that meets their community’s needs because the formal industry is either unwilling or unable to do so.

So which consumer model makes will prevail? The supermarket model that creates expectations of quality, safety and nutrition wrapped up in attractive packaging but comes at a high price? Or the braai stand/informal butchery next door that makes up for little or no packaging, no guarantees of quality, safety or nutrition but delivers affordable prices and accessibility?

For the foreseeable future the answer is both. Consumers who are willing and able to pay a price premium for the value added by abattoirs, wholesalers and supermarkets in exchange for guarantees of quality, safety and nutrition will continue to do so because they can. Consumers who lack the means to pay for those kinds of guarantees and who must take their chances in return for accessible and affordable meat will continue to do so because they must.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Dr Nick Vink  on

Discovery of single nucleotide polymorphisms

Genome-wide genetic marker discovery in South African indigenous cattle breeds using next generation sequencing

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Livestock production with global competitiveness: Animal growth, nutrition and management

Research Institute: Agriculture Research Institute – Animal Production Institute

Researcher: Dr. Avhashoni Zwane

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof. Azwihangwisi Maiwashe PhD
Prof Este Van Marle-Koster PhD
Prof Jerry Taylor PhD
Prof Mahlako Makgahlela PhD
Dr Ananyo Choudhury PhD
Dr Farai Muchadeyi PhD

Year of completion : 2018

Aims Of The Project

  • To conduct a genome wide search for new SNPs in local cattle breeds
  • To validate newly identified SNPs using Run 5 data from the 1000 Bull Genomes Project and perform functional annotation and enrichment analysis
  • To identify selective sweeps and a panel of SNP markers to discriminate between the three indigenous breeds

Executive Summary

South African (SA) livestock has played an important role in food security country’s sustainability. Due to the important role of indigenous cattle breeds in SA, it is crucial for these breeds to be included in the generation of genotypic and sequence data. Genomic data provide opportunity for various genetic investigations including identification of breed-informative markers, selective sweeps and genome-wide association studies (GWAS). In this study sequence data were generated and used in combination with genotypic data to conduct a SNP discovery in the three indigenous SA breeds (Afrikaner, Drakensberger, and Nguni) and study potential selective sweeps and identify panel of breed-specific markers. Commercial bovine SNP assays, (BovineSNP50 and GGP-80K) were used for identifying the breed-informative markers, while an approach of breed pooled samples were used for sequencing. Sequencing of the three breeds generated approximately 1.8 billion (184 Giga-bp) of high quality paired-end reads which 99 % reads mapped to the bovine reference genome (UMD 3.1), with an average coverage of 21.1-fold. A total of 17.6 million variants were identified across the three breeds with the highest number of variants identified in NGI (12,514,597) than in AFR (11,165,172) and the DRA (7,049,802). In total 89 % of variants were SNPs and 11 % were Indels. On average, 85 % of the total SNPs identified were also shared among the breeds from 1000 Bull Genomes Project data and the remaining 15 % of SNPs were unique to SA indigenous breeds. Novel SNPs were further annotated to identify genes enriched in novel SNPs. In total, 461, 478 and 542 genomic regions identified from the top (5%) windows were enriched for novel variants (p < 0.001). A total of 174 putative breed-specific SNPs were identified across the breeds and showed the overall 100% breed allocation using PCA and GeneClass 2. This study provides the first analysis of sequence data to discover SNPs in indigenous SA cattle breeds and the results provide insight into the genetic composition of the breeds and offer the potential for further applications in their genetic improvement.



A.A. Zwane1,2, A. Choudhury, M.L. Makgahlela1, E. van Marle-Köster2, A. Maiwashe1,5 and J.F. Taylor4
1Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, ARC-API, P/Bag X2, Irene, 0062, 2Department of Animal and Wildlife Sciences, University of Pretoria, P/Bag X20, Hatfield, Pretoria, 0028, 3Sydney Brenner Institute of Molecular Bioscience, University of the Witwatersrand, P/Bag 3, Wits, Gauteng, 2050, 4Division of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri, 920 East Campus Drive, Columbia, MO 65211-5300, USA, 5Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa
#Corresponding author:

Background: Whole-genome sequencing now provides a suitable platform to examine the entire genome for the identification of selective sweeps. Indigenous South African (SA) breeds including Afrikaner (AFR), Drakensberger (DRA), and Nguni (NGI) are important genetic resources for SA cattle production. These breeds were subjected to strong selection leading to changes in their morphology, physiology and behaviour.

Aim: The aim of this study was to identify selective sweeps that shaped phenotypic diversity among indigenous SA breeds.
Methodologies: Whole genome sequencing of pools of DNA from AFR, DRA, and NGI was performed using an Illumina HiSeq 2000 and 17.6 million variants were discovered across the breeds. To identify the selective sweep regions, SNPs were used to calculate Z-transformations of the pooled heterozygosity (ZHp) in each of the three breeds using a 150 kb sliding window to compute the ZHp Z-scores in each breed. The results were used to plot the distribution of SNP counts within the windows. The regions of selective sweeps were represented by the lower ZHp Z-scores with the minimum threshold of -4. Animal QTL database was used to determine the gene ontology of the genes identified in selective sweep regions.

Results: In total 688 candidate selective sweeps, with the ZHp Z-score ≤ −4 were identified across the three breeds with 223 putative selective sweeps (ZHp Z-score ≤ -5). About 93 regions had extremely low ZHp Z-scores (ZHp scores ≤ −6). These are the regions subjected to selection segninatures. Using animal QTLdb, several genes were identified, e.g., ESM1, CNOT6, ASIC5, KIT and MITF, associated with phenotypic variation in livestock species (Zielak-Steciwko et al., 2014; Fallahsharoudi et al., 2016).

Discussion: The ability to detect selective sweep regions provided useful genomic information for these breeds, whereas functional analysis of these regions revealed the presence of genes of biological and economic importance.
Conclusions and recommendations: This study provides a broad insight into the events that happened during recent selection events and artificial selection processes that have shaped the livestock genome. More work is needed to characterise genomic regions and genes identified in this study.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –  vhashoni Zwane  on

Crossbreeding Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni cows

Crossbreeding effects with specialized sire lines in Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni beef cattle herds

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Livestock production with global competitiveness: Breeding, physiology and management

Research Institute: Agriculture Research Institute – Animal Production Institute

Researcher: Dr. M Scholtz

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Mrs. A. Theunissen MSc
Prof F W C Neser Ph.D.
Mr. L De Lange Nat. Dipl.
Mr. T Jonker M.Sc.
Mr. F J Jordaan M.Sc. (Agric)
Dr M D MacNeil Ph.D.
Mr. O Ntwaeagae B.Tech
Mr. W Pieterson Nat. Dipl.
Ms. M C Mokolobate M.Sc. (Agric)
Ms. G M Pyoos B.Sc. (Agric. Sci.)
Ms. M Mokgadi M.Tech

Year of completion : 2018

Aims Of The Project

  • 1. To estimate the genetic and phenotypic trends in the dam lines
  • 2. To evaluate crossbreeding systems and quantify the phenotypic progress made in economically important traits in crossbred cattle for beef production
  • 3. To characterize the additive and non-additive genetic effects for production and health traits in progeny of terminal sires and dam line breeding cows
  • 4. To validate an existing simulation model for the development of breeding objectives for specialized sire lines on Landrace breed cows for use in small scale and commercial farming that better meet commercial feedlot requirements
  • 5. To make recommendations with regard to future selection and management of beef herds in warm arid areas
  • 6. To evaluate alternative production systems in anticipation of global warming

Executive Summary

Climate has been changing and these changes are predicted to be highly dynamic. Increasing frequencies of heat stress, drought and flooding events are likely, and these will have adverse effects livestock production. It is therefore important that production systems utilizing local landrace and adapted breeds that are better adapted to warmer climates, be investigated.

In South Africa extensive cattle farming dominate primary cattle production systems, while more than 80% of all beef cattle slaughtered in the formal sector in South Africa originate from commercial feedlots. A total of 67% of feedlot animals are crossbreds, indicating that crossbreeding is playing a significant role in the commercial industry in South Africa. Well-structured crossbreeding systems allows producers to capture benefits from complementarity and heterosis.

The study is being conducted at Vaalharts Research Station. The aim is to use the Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni as dam lines in crosses with specialized sire lines from British (represented by Angus) and European (represented by Simmentaler) breeds. In addition these dam lines were also mated with Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni bulls in all combinations. This is producing 15 different genotypes.

It is anticipated that the information from five breeding seasons will be needed for the a more comprehensive study. Currently the information from three seasons are available and have been summarized. A protocol for Phase 2 of the study has been submitted.

The phenotypic trends in production traits of the three breeds over 25 years revealed an increase in cow productivity in all the breeds varying from 10% in the Bonsmara to 18.3% in the Afrikaner, where cow productivity was defined as kg calf weaned per Large Stock Unit mated. This also resulted in a decrease in the carbon footprint of up to 12%. The bottom line is that cow productivity can be improved if the weaning weight of the calf relative to the weight of the cow can be increased; and the inter-calving period reduced. Well-structured crossbreeding should have a much bigger effect on this and therefore the environmental impact, will be included in the final analyses of this study.

The simulation study indicated that breed, weaner and carcass price have an influence in the gross income from weaner and ox production systems. The simulation model in question can be used to quantify the benefits from the different crosses on completion of the study on condition that it is based on sound assumptions regarding weaner and carcass prices.

The information on 550 weaner calves and 125 feedlot bulls are currently available. The heaviest weaning weights are from Simmentaler sires on Afrikaner (220 kg) and Bonsmara (213 kg) dams, as well as Angus sires on Bonsmara (252 kg) dams. The lightest weaner calves were produced from purebred Ngunis (171 kg) and Angus sires on Nguni dams (173 kg). The severe draught and extreme heat of the 2015/2016 summer season had a big effect on the Angus and Simmentaler sired calves. The Sanga sired calves and Angus/Simmentaler sired calves had the same weaning weight (171 kg) in this season. In contrast, the 2016/2017 summer season was cooler and wetter, resulting in the weaning weight of the Angus/Simmentaler sired calves being 27 kg heavier than the Sanga sired calves (210 kg versus 183 kg). This demonstrates the importance of including the effect of climate on the pre- and post-weaning performance in Phase 2 of the experiment.

At the completion of the study all the information will be updated and this baseline information used to evaluate how effective the current crossbreeding systems in South Africa are and to quantify the direct and maternal heterotic effects, the possible/promising advantages of structured crossbreeding, as well as the effect of climate.

The very dry and hot 2015/2016 season also had an effect on the post weaning feed intake and growth. For example, the ADG of the Angus and Simmentaler types decreased by 17%, whereas that of the Sanga and Sanga derived types (Afrikaner, Bonsmara, Nguni) decreased by 9%, as a result of the heat waves experienced.

It is foreseen that indigenous and adapted beef breeds may become more important in South Africa as a consequence of climate change that will result in more challenging environments. The use of specialized sire and dam lines offer an opportunity to increase output by taking advantage of heterosis and complementarity. The effects of weather patterns on beef production in South Africa should also be estimated and thereafter, mitigation strategies developed in the era of climate change to ensure optimal production efficiency.

With the information collect from the GrowSafe system, it will be possible to study feed and water intake patterns as well as behavior of individual animals and different genotypes. This may give valuable information on the effect of climate on animal performance and behavior.

This study produced one M.Sc. thesis, 8 peer reviewed scientific articles, chapters in books and conference proceedings, as well as 8 popular articles.

Popular Article

The principles behind climate smart beef cow efficiency through utilization of structured crossbreeding

Theunissen1, M.C. Mokolobate2 & M.M. Scholtz2,3

1Northern Cape Department of Agricultural, Land Reform and Ruswral Development, Private Bag X9, Jan Kempdorp 8550, South Africa

2ARC-Animal Production Institute, Private Bag X2, Irene, 0062, South Africa

3University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, 9300, South Africa; South Africa (Corresponding author)

 Background and deliberations

With the ever swelling costs of production, beef cattle producers in South Africa have a sure challenge for sustainability. This is aggravated by the vagaries of climate change. The country’s most recent vulnerability was displayed during the 2015 drought, which was the warmest year ever recorded and was accompanied by extreme heat. The beef industry is one of the agricultural sectors that need to focus on both adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to  greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and global warming.

The utilization of more hardy breed resources in a changing production environment is one of the alternative strategies to be considered. The most fundamental factor in this strategy will be the emphasis on a high reproductive rate of the selected breeds in the particular environment to increase the overall efficiency of the beef cattle enterprise.

Another alternate is the use of sustainable crossbreeding systems that pool indigenous and exotic breeds, but with retention of the genetic resources, which have shown to be an effective means to reduces GHG, as it has been shown to increase reproduction and production levels in overseas and in local studies. In this regard, a newly developed more sophisticated Large Stock Unit (LSU) calculator by Neser (2012) and Mokolobate (2015) and the measurement of cow efficiency (to calculate kg calf weaned/kg LSU of the dam); initiated an evaluation tool for “cross-bred” selection and breeding to improve cow efficiency; as long as the nutritional needs of animals are fully met.

This expression of cow efficiency is an improved replacement for the biological definition of kg calf weaned/kg mature cow weight that not only has two variables of which anyone or both in the ratio can change to have the same answer, but does not express beef production in terms of an assigned nutrient intake. The advantage of the new biological expression of cow efficiency is that the method increases output and reduces input, which will then support and facilitate the implementation of climate smart production, adaptation and mitigation measures.

Initially Meissner et al. (1983) defined a LSU on the basis of the nutrient requirement of a unit.  However, with differences in frame sizes there are differences in the voluntary feed intake between such animals although they have the same body weight. The LSU equivalents for beef cattle of different frame sizes also vary according to physiological phases, eg. heifers (over 12 months of age) and lactating cows. Table 1 shows examples of the refined estimations of LSU equivalents according to frame sizes of cows that was derived with the calculator.

Table 1: LSU equivalents for beef cattle of different frame sizes and physiological phases



Small Frame Medium Frame Large Frame
Heifer (>12 months) Cow &


Heifer (>12 months) Cow &


Heifer (>12 months) Cow &


150 0.37 X X X X X
175 0.42 X X X X X
200 0.47 X 0.50 X X X
225 0.52 0.83 0.56 X X X
250 0.57 0.89 0.61 X 0.67 X
275 0.61 0.95 0.66 X 0.72 X
300 0.66 1.00 0.70 1.05 0.77 X
325 0.70 1.06 0.75 1.11 0.82 X
350 0.73 1.11 0.80 1.17 0.88 X
375 0.77 1.16 0.84 1.23 0.93 1.48
400 0.80 1.22 0.89 1.29 0.98 1.55
425 0.83 1.27 0.93 1.34 1.03 1.61
450 0.85 1.32 0.97 1.40 1.08 1.66
475 X 1.37 1.01 1.45 1.13 1.72
500 X 1.42 1.05 1.50 1.18 1.78
525 X 1.47 1.08 1.55 1.23 1.83
550 X 1.52 1.12 1.60 1.28 1.88
575 X 1.57 X 1.65 1.33 1.93
600 X 1.61 X 1.69 1.38 1.98
625 X X X 1.74 1.43 2.02
650 X X X 1.78 X 2.07
675 X X X X X 2.11
700 X X X X X 2.15

Crossbreeding has proved to increase cow efficiency when it is measured and calculated with the LSU caculator. Table 2 demonstrates the results of a study that was done at Vaalharts Research Station that used mature cows of different breeds. The cow efficiency, estimated by kg calf weaned / cow LSU (KgC/LSU), for the Afrikaner (A), Brahman (B), Charolais (C), Hereford (H) and Simmentaler (S) breed types were calculated according to their different frame sizes and expressed as percentage deviation from the Afrikaner breed in brackets.

Table 2 The estimated cow efficiency (KgC/LSU) for the 29 different breed types and percentage deviation from the Afrikaner breed in brackets

  Sire Breed

Dam breed

Afrikaner  (A) Brahman  (B) Charoloais  (C) Hereford  (H) Simmentaler  (S)
A 142.6










B 142.0


C 124.9


H 149.3


S 139.3


BA 148.9










CA 152.3










HA 155.7










SA 155.9










Table 2 shows that with the exception of the Hereford, purebred dams were less efficient than purebred Afrikaner dams under the particular environmental conditions. The purebred Charolais (C) dam was the least efficient dam out of all the genotypes. Crossbreeding the Afrikaner (A) dam line with Brahman (B), Charolais (C), Hereford (H) and Simmentaler (S) as sire lines indicated small effects (between +0.7 to +6.0%) on KgC/LSU above that of the purebred Afrikaner (A). However, the efficiency in the F1 cow increased relative to that of the purebred exotic cows. For example, the cow efficiency of the CA cow, compared to pure C cow increased with +14.5% (from -12.4% to +2.1%).

In the case of FI cows the HA was unsurpassed and increased cow efficiency on average by +17.6%, while the BA, CA and SA dam lines increased cow efficiency by +8.5, +9.0 and +12.1% respectively. Continental and Zebu sire lines mated to the most productive HA crossbred dam line in a three-breed system (S x HA, C x HA and B x HA) increased KgC/LSU on average by +22.7, +23.9 and +19.2% respectively, against that of the A x HA backcross with +9.2%.

The improvement demonstrated in the study concurs with that of Schoeman (2010), which indicated that crossbreeding improves calf/cow efficiency when measured as energy requirements or input costs per kg of equivalent steer weight. Although the effect of heterosis on individual traits is normally relatively small, the cumulative effect on composite traits, such as weight of calf weaned per cow exposed are immense which explains the superiority in kgC/LSU as a composite trait. Conversely, researchers cautioned on the attempt to extrapolate research results to all environments other than those similar to where the studies were conducted because of the presence of genotype x environment interactions.

While KgC/LSU as trait on its own can be used to rank productive cows in a contemporary group, it cannot be used to plan breeding strategies. Fertility, or the number of calves weaned in a cow group should certainly also be considered as a complementary factor that influences cow efficiency. In this study the net effect on weaning rate (WR) was that crossbred dams outperformed their purebred contemporaries by 8%.

Cow efficiency can then be estimated as follows: Y = WR x KgC/LSU

where Y = cow efficiency.

Since weaning rate has a low heritability and largely depends on the climatic and managerial (environmental) factors of a particular farm, this trait can contribute to large deviations in the estimated cow efficiencies that were obtained in Table 2. When weaning rate is included in the metioned Vaalharts study, it showed that when compared to the A, only purebred H and S cows have increased cow efficiency potential (+11.4 and 5.3% respectively). Two-breed progeny of the A dam line increased cow efficiency on average by +16.5%. All these increases are ascribed to the increased WR of the breeds compared to that of the A, B and C pure-breeds.

While A sire line backcrosses increased cow efficiency on average by +20.3%, three-breed progeny from B, C, H and S sire lines had average increases of +21.6, +24.4, +30.2 and 34.8% respectively. The S x HA showed the notable increase of 49.7%. Similarly, the BA, CA, HA and SA dam lines respectively had average increases of +24.1, +18.9. +36.6 and +25.2% on cow efficiency. All crossbred dam genotypes increased cow efficiency, the only exceptions being a trivial increase of +0.6% of the B x CA genotype. In this study the Pearson correlation between kgC/LSU (cow efficiency without WR included) and WR x kgC/LSU (cow efficiency with WR included) is 0.88%.

In the current Vaalharts crossbreeding project, the Bonsmara and Nguni are added to the Afrikaner as dam lines. These dam lines are mated to Angus and Simmentaler as specialized sire lines. In addition, the dam lines are also inter-mated in all possible combinations. The result is 15 different genotypes. The data will be analysed similar to that of the previous crossbreeding project.


A sophisticated Large Stock Unit (LSU) calculator can be used for the measurement of cow efficiency (to calculate kg calf weaned/kg LSU of the dam) of different frame sizes and without additional inputs. Cross-breeding has shown to increase cow efficiency; as long as cow frame sizes do not increase up to a point where the nutritional needs of animals are not fully being met. Increases in cow efficiency (weaning rate x kg calf/large stock unit) in two-breed and three-breed cattle was mainly derived from differences in frame size, fitness and relationships between calf weight and cow Large Stock Units.

The fact that there are large differences in cow efficiency in reproductive cows point to genetic differences and holds the potential for cow ranking and improvement through selection in contemporary groups. Optimum crossbreeding strategies may increase cow efficiency up to a notable 49.7%. This will support climate smart beef production, since it will reduce resource use and reduce the carbon footprint per unit of product produced.


This work is based on research supported in part by Red Meat Research and Development South Africa and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF), under grants UID 75122, 75123 and 90097. The Grant-holder acknowledges that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in any publication generated by the NRF-supported research are that of the authors and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard.


Meissner, H.H., Hofmeyr, H.S., Van Rensburg, W.J.J. & Pienaar, J.P., 1983. Classification of livestock for realistic prediction of substitution values in terms of a biologically defined Large Stock Unit. Tech. Comm. No. 175. Department of Agriculture, Pretoria.

Mokolobate, M.C., 2015.Novelty traits to improve cow-calf efficiency in climate smart beef production systems. MSc. Dissertation. University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Neser, F.W.C., 2012.

Schoeman, S.J., 2010. Crossbreeding in beef cattle. In: Beef Breeding in South Africa. 2nd Edition. Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria. ISBN-13 978-1-86849-391-3 pp 21-32.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Michiel Scholtz on

Heartwater survey on changes and causes

A Survey of veterinary and farmer experiences and opinions on heartwater incidence, distribution and associated factors in domestic ruminants in South Africa

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Health and Welfare

Research Institute: Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria Department of Production Animal Studies

Researcher: Prof     Gareth Bath     ECSRHM

Title Initials Surname Qualification
Dr D Coetzee BVSc
Dr T Brink BVSc
Dr R Leask M. Med. Vet
Prof G Fosgate PhD

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To establish the extent and incidence of HW by a structured questionnaire sent to farmers and veterinarians in heartwater areas

  • To establish changes that may have occurred in these areas

  • To identify possible reasons for the changes observed.

  • To make recommendations for further action

Executive Summary

The Questionnaire Survey achieved the aims set out for the project. Sample sizes, structure, demographics, geographic distribution and experience profiles of both Veterinary and Farmer groups were adequate for gathering useful data and for conclusions to be drawn.

There appears to be epidemiologically significant change in the spatial distribution of heartwater in many areas, with serious expansion in some, of up to 150 kilometres, and 48% of veterinarians and 42% of farmers reported seeing increases in the number of farms affected by heartwater. The disease is also increasing in incidence and severity judging by the number of cases seen, increases in occurrence observed and also some indication that there is an increased risk of heartwater in more months of the year than in the past.

Climate change as a causative factor, indicated by observations of increased average temperatures, milder frosts, less rain and shorter rainy seasons, was identified by the majority of farmers but not by as many veterinarians. Respondents in both groups considered vegetation change an important factor. Increasing wildlife, especially antelope, was seen as a major factor by most veterinarians and also many farmers. Both groups identified the movement of livestock and wildlife as an increasingly important factor that must be seen as of major concern for both industries since it leads to the avoidable spread of many diseases apart from heartwater. Movement controls must be reinstated and reinforced by vigorously enforced legislation.

The use of the heartwater ‘vaccine’ is either unchanged or in decline and is apparently causing an increasing reliance on dipping and block treatments. Farmers reported mainly an increase in tick control by dipping and rated this as a very important factor in the management of heartwater; the veterinarians rated it lower. Control achieved by routine, regular block treatments of entire flocks or herds was also seen as a major factor and as increasing in use for both respondent groups, each giving it a high ranking. Relying on intensive tick control and ongoing block treatments leads to loss of efficacy in key acaricides and antibiotics and has very serious implications and consequences for the control of many diseases and parasites of livestock. The lack of a commercially available, safe, effective, practical and affordable true vaccine for the protection of ruminant livestock against heartwater should be of the absolute highest concern and priority. After decades of trials, OVI researchers have developed a very promising candidate vaccine, yet its further development to the commercial stage appears not to be receiving the urgency and attention needed.

Diagnosis of heartwater in post mortem cases is accurate and reliable if backed by appropriate histopathological staining and examination, but far too few farmers have their suspicions confirmed by laboratory tests. This leads to a danger of widespread misdiagnosis and the disease being potentially either under- or over-diagnosed. The problem extends to clinical cases especially, where diagnosis rests mainly on a few ‘typical’ signs. The presence of atypical forms of heartwater further complicates the problem.

Popular Article

Is Heartwater spreading and becoming worse, and why?

A survey of farmers and veterinarians in heartwater-prone areas of South Africa indicates that the disease is expanding in geographic area and increasing in severity. What are the possible reasons for this, what has changed in these areas, and what should be done to limit the impact of a worsening situation? The Heartwater Survey was undertaken by staff of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort, and generously funded by the financial subvention of RMRD – SA.

A representative sample of veterinarians and farmers with adequate experience in areas where heartwater is a problem agreed to take part in the survey. The survey took the form of a structured, measureable and analysable set of questions in a standard questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to allow comparisons to be made between the two groups, who were for the most part asked the same or similar questions. The responses of these two groups gave an insight into the current heartwater situation as it is experienced by the farmers and veterinarians in the heartwater areas, and shed some light on the importance of factors believed to be involved in the expansion of areas affected by heartwater and in the changes of its severity.

It was deduced from the responses of both groups that the disease is expanding its range in many areas, and alarmingly so – by an average of perhaps 60km and as much as 150 kilometres in some regions. The reports by both vets and farmers indicated that an increasing number of farms are becoming affected by heartwater, confirming that the disease appears to be spreading. It was also evident that annual losses caused by heartwater can be very high on some farms unless the disease is suppressed by unsustainable practices like intensive dipping or repeated blocking of entire herds and flocks with tetracycline antibiotics. Both groups also reported that the number of cases of heartwater is rising.

Several factors that were thought to be responsible for these changes were identified by the two groups, although they did not always agree on the relative importance of these factors. Climate change, evidenced by higher than average temperatures, milder frosts, lower rainfall and shorter rainy seasons, was seen as a major causative factor by most farmers but considered to be of less significance by the veterinarians. Both groups saw a change in vegetation as an important factor but more so by the vets, who also rated the role of increased wildlife and the movement of antelope as a major factor, more so than the opinion of the farmers. The groups were, however, in agreement about the important role played by the movement of livestock in the potential to increase the areas affected by heartwater.

The survey revealed that the use of the heartwater “vaccine” was stagnant or in decline, which is not surprising in view of the many difficulties encountered in its use, the risks and dangers inherent to it, and the uncertainties around its efficacy. Unfortunately this reluctance to use the vaccine has evidently led to an increasing use of frequent, suppressive tick control or reliance on regular blocking treatments for heartwater for entire herds or flocks. Neither of these control measures are sustainable in the long run, and are almost certain to hasten the onset and rapid development of drug resistance in the bont tick and the heartwater organism. It was also clear from the survey that the diagnosis and treatment of heartwater relies far too heavily on the clinical signs or symptoms seen, especially with the farmers, leading to the dangers of misdiagnosis.

In conclusion, the survey revealed that heartwater is increasing in both its geographic extent and its severity, at least in some areas, and that a number of factors appear to be involved in causing these changes. Chief of these were climate, vegetation, and wildlife and livestock movements. The role of static or declining vaccine usage, leading to an increased reliance on intensive tick control, or alternately the widespread use of whole herd blocking with tetracycline antibiotics was also revealed by the responses of both groups.

The most pressing need now to bring about satisfactory heartwater control is the rapid and prioritised development of a commercial vaccine by OBP that is safe, effective, practical, easy to use and affordable. This development can be based on the very promising candidate vaccine developed by OVI. Ensuring that the movement of both wildlife and livestock is properly controlled to try to reduce the spread of the disease is another priority requiring urgent attention.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Gareth Bath on

Improved red meat marketing in South Africa

Improving the effectiveness of the red meat industry in meeting the needs of the modern consumer within South Africa as a developing country with socio-economic diversity

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: 

  • Red Meat Safety, Nutritional Value, Consumerism and Consumer Behaviour
  • The economics of red meat consumption and production in South Africa

Research Institute: Bureau for food and agricultural policy (BFAP)

Researcher: Mrs Hester Vermeulen

Research Team

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Prof Ferdi Meyer PhD Agricultural Economics
Prof HC Schönfeldt PhD
Dr B Pretorius PhD

Completion: 2017

Aims of the project

  • Improving the effectiveness of the South African red meat industry in meeting the needs of the socio-economical diverse consumer market in South Africa through the development of scientifically based recommendations to guide policy development and product development / improvement.
  • To identify and characterize consumer market segments among low-, middle- and high LSM consumers in South Africa based on consumers red meat perceptions and behavior – considering a variety of species and meat cuts guided by data availability.
  • To develop scientifically based recommendations for the promotion of red meat in South Africa through appropriate marketing messages delivered through suitable communication channels to maintain and / or improve consumers’ perceptions and acceptance of red meat – considering a variety of species and meat cuts guided by data availability.
  • To engage in GAP analysis in order to identify the discrepancies between the actual current characteristics and ideal characteristics (demanded by consumers) of the red meat product offering on South African retail shelves – considering beef and mutton/lamb and a selection of fresh meat cuts guided by data availability.

Executive Summary

Meat purchasing and preparation behaviour:

  • Meat purchasing roles:
    • Marketing information on red meat should have a strong focus on adult women (‘wife’ or head female in households) as the primary red meat purchasers, but still keeping in mind that all age and genders groups within the household could influence her red meat purchase decision. Given the increased role of the husband / head male on meat purchasing during weekends and when selecting meat to entertain guests, red meat information related to these more social settings should be targeted at both male and female adults.
  • Factors considered when purchasing red meat:
    • Across the socio-economic spectrum, for both raw beef and raw mutton/lamb the following factors were important to consumers when making a purchase – and are thus important factors to focus on in terms of red meat production and marketing, no matter which socio-economics group is targeted:
      • Affordability: Price.
      • Appearance: General appearance, colour of meat, colour of fat.
      • Food safety: Food safety in general, expiry date, clean meat (no blood).
      • Quality: Quality guarantee, fresh, fresh not frozen.
      • Sensory acceptability: Tasty, tender, juicy, eaten by all in household.
      • Convenience: Convenience in general, preparation time.
      • Fat: Fat-to-meat ratio, low fat / lean meat.
      • Store where meat is purchased.
    • Among the low-income sample value-for-money considerations such as bone-to-meat ratio, amount of meat per packet and packaging size were also important. The importance of branding and nutritional value increased towards the middle- and high-income samples.
  • Meal planning:
    • As consumers across the socio-economic spectrum usually choose the meat for the meal first and then the other dishes it is critical to ensure that red meat is positioned as a popular ‘spontaneous’ choice in consumers’ minds.
    • Consumer education on red meat meal preparation ideas should rely on multiple sources with the dominant sources being ‘social’ sources and radio for the low-income sample, and recipes, ‘social’ sources (such as friends, mother), television and magazines for the middle- and high-income samples.
  • Red meat preparation and cooking:
    • For beef the most popular cooking methods were stewing, frying and braai. For the low-income group stove-top boiling was also prominent, while roasting and grilling popular cooking methods among middle-income and high-income consumers.
    • When preparing mutton/lamb low-income consumers used frying, boiling and braai, while middle-income consumers mainly used casserole, potjie, braai, roasting and stewing (in order of importance). High income consumers used stewing, braai, roasting, frying and grilling (in order of importance) for lamb/mutton.
    • Among middle- and high-income consumers the time allocated to meat preparation increased during weekends and even more so when entertaining guests. Thus, when targeting these segments with meat preparation information and recipes for more ‘social’ meals, more complex and longer preparation time can be used. However, during the week these consumers want meat options that are easy and fast to prepare.

Meat consumption behaviour:

  • Perceived importance of protein food intake:
    • Considering the statement: ‘It is important to eat animal protein foods daily’, the majority of high- and middle-income consumers were in agreement (96% of high-income sample versus 86% of middle-income sample).
    • Considering the statement: ‘It is important to eat red meat 3 to 4 times per week’, a smaller share of high- and middle-income consumers were in agreement (65% of high-income sample versus 39% of middle-income sample).
    • There seems to be a gap for consumer education particularly among middle- and high-income consumers on the recommended healthy intake of red meat and the health benefits associated with red meat.
  • Protein food intake:
    • The animal protein food options consumed in largest quantities were (in order of importance):
      • Low-income consumers: Chicken, eggs, beef, chicken offal, fish and beef.
      • Middle-income consumers: Chicken, eggs, fish and beef.
      • High-income consumers: Chicken, beef, eggs and fish.
    • The most frequently consumed animal protein food options were (in order of importance):
      • Low-income consumers: Eggs, chicken offal, chicken meat, canned fish, polony / viennas, boerewors, beef liver and stewing beef with bone.
      • Middle-income consumers: Chicken, eggs, beef mince, fish, boerewors, beef (stewing, steak, roast, sausage), cold meats, mutton/lamb (chops, stew).
      • High-income consumers: Chicken, eggs, beef (mince, stew, steak, sausage), cold meats, pork, fish, mutton/lamb.
    • The results in terms of the most popular meat option and red meat cuts could provide the red meat industry with important market intelligence in terms of actions to ensure the continued popularity of prominent cuts as well as the identification of ‘underutilised’ cuts. Furthermore, the meat intake data presented in this report could be very valuable from a food intake / nutritional / food security perspective, as it provides more detailed information on the meat consumption patterns of South African consumers.
  • Changes in red meat intake over time:
    • A significantly larger share of the low-, middle- and high-income consumers indicated that they consumed less red meat than 2 years before the survey (Beef: 87% of low-income consumers, 75% of middle-income consumers and 80% of high-income consumers; Mutton/lamb: 72% of low-income consumers, 85% of middle-income consumers and 88% of high-income consumers). These shares are significantly higher than previous research (2003) where 45% of the total sample reported reduced beef intake. Red meat was mainly replaced by chicken meat and some fish. The main reasons for reduced red meat intake (similar to past studies) were high prices (expensive) and some health concerns.
  • Popularity of red meat among household members:
    • Red meat was generally more popular among adult consumers than among children and teenagers. There might be a growth opportunity for the red meat industry if red meat could be made more appealing to younger consumers, e.g. through innovative product formats, child-friendly recipes and consumer health education.

Meat perceptions:

  • About a third of the low-income consumers remove all visible fat before cooking, while about 15% remove some visible fat before cooking beef and chicken. The serving of meat ‘pan drippings’ originating from the cooked meat applied to about half of the low-income consumers.

Red meat safety:

  • When defining red meat safety consumers across the socio-economic spectrum focused on clean meat, clean purchase environment, meat colour, freshness, grading, expiry date, healthiness and good quality.
  • Considering the relationship between red meat quality and red meat safety a large share of respondents perceived the terms to the basically the same and being equally important when purchasing red meat.
  • The large majority of all respondents (78% to 98% of the various socio-economic sub-samples) perceived food safety as an important factor considered when purchasing red meat. However, only about 13% of the low-income consumers and about a third of the middle- and high-income consumers had red meat safety concerns. It could be argued that consumers ‘control’ for food safety by carefully selecting their red meat purchase outlets. It is also important to note that food safety seems to be a ‘non-negotiable’ attribute to consumers – it has to be in place, implying a responsibility on the red meat industry and retailers to ensure the safety of red meat sold to South African consumers.
  • The low- and middle-income consumers were most concerned about the safety of beef, followed by chicken, while the high-income consumers were most concerned about safety of chicken and beef.
  • The most trusted purchase outlets for red meat are dominated by specific trusted butchery shops and formal major retail chain store, while the most risky purchase outlets for red meat are dominated by hawkers / street vendors, spaza shops, small independent retailers, certain butchery shops and certain chain retailers.


  • The purchasing frequency of take-away meals differed significantly between income groups, with weekly take-away food purchasing observed for 5% of low-income consumers, 19% of middle-income consumers and 29% of high-income consumers. The results confirmed the dominance of chicken as a popular meat choice among all socio-economic groups, even though beef is also a prominent choice among high-income consumers when purchasing take-away meals.
  • The purchasing frequency of restaurant meals differed significantly between income groups, with weekly restaurant food purchasing observed for 6% of low-income consumers, 11% of middle-income consumers and 9% of high-income consumers. In terms of meat types chicken is the dominant option purchased from restaurants by the middle-income group, even though the popularity gap between chicken and beef is less prominent than for take-away meals. Among the high-income sample beef is the most popular option, followed by fish/seafood.
  • Challenges facing the red meat industry includes increasing the appeal of beef within take-away- and restaurant meals, particularly among the middle-income group; and increasing the appeal of mutton/lamb within restaurant meals, among middle- and high-income consumers.

Red meat information sources:

  • The most highly used and trusted red meat information sources for the particular socio-economic sub-segment were the following:
  • Low-income consumers: TV, radio, advertising, doctors, newspapers;
  • Middle-income consumers: TV, family, friends, doctors, recipe books, radio, food labels;
  • High-income consumers: Family, friends, food labels, recipe books, butcheries, doctors, dieticians.
  • Doctors are among top 10 most used and most trusted meat info sources for all income sub-segments;
  • TV and radio are the top 10 most used and most trusted meat info sources for middle income and low income sub-segments. However, the particular channels / stations will vary between LSM groups.
  • Family and friends (possibly linked with social media), recipe books and food labels are among the top 10 most used and most trusted meat info sources for middle income and high income sub-segments.
  • Advertising and newspapers are among the top 10 most used and most trusted meat info sources for low income sub-segment only, while butcheries and dieticians among top 10 most used and most trusted meat info sources for high income sub-segment only.

Red meat classification:

  • Among low LSM consumers there is a very limited understanding and attention given to red meat classification. Even though middle LSM and high LSM consumers also have a limited understanding of red meat classification, around half of these sampled consumers check the grading / classification mark sometimes or often when buying beef or mutton/lamb.
  • The association of red meat classification with meat quality and safety was limited. Even though many respondents did not mention red meat classification / grading directly when defining red meat quality and safety, many aspects related to it was mentioned such as freshness, meat colour, appearance, smell, tenderness, taste and leanness.
  • Among an extensive range of red meat decision factors ‘grading / classification’ was not among the top 20 most important factors. However, many aspects related to red meat grading / classification was important such as appearance, taste, flavour, quality guarantee, meat colour, fat content, juiciness and tenderness.
  • It is interesting to note that the results presented on the radar plots in terms of consumers’ red meat decision factors, the place of purchase is a stronger quality cue to consumers than the certification marks on the meat. This is an important observation and should be further investigated.

Credence / intangible red meat attributes:

  • The most popular intangible attributes among the middle-income consumers were (in order of importance) (% of sample perceiving attribute as ‘very important’ indicated in brackets): environmentally friendly production (54%), free range (49%), no growth hormones given to animals (44%), animal friendly production (44%), breed of animal (43%) and no GM feed given to animals (43%). The question however arises whether these consumers have the purchasing power to afford the price premiums associated with these attributes.
  • The most popular intangible attributes among the high-income consumers were (in order of importance) (% of sample perceiving attribute as ‘very important’ indicated in brackets): no growth hormones given to animals (56%), no GM feed given to animals (49%), environmentally friendly production (48%), animal friendly production (39%) and free range (36%).
  • In terms of demographic variables (LSM group, gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, household income level and education level), within the middle- and high-income samples, the segments deeming intangible attributes as ‘very important’ did not differ significantly from the alternative segments.
  • The most highly used and highly trusted red meat information sources among the middle- and high-income consumer samples for consumers who perceived at least four or more of the intangible attributes as ‘very important’ were TV, family friends, advertising, food labels, recipe books, newspapers, butchers, radio, magazines, retailers, dieticians, food industry, public health recommendations, doctors, farmers and consumer organisations. These results (presented for each intangible attribute separate in the particular chapter) present marketers of red meat with a valuable overview of the marketing channels to use when marketing red meat products with particular intangible product traits.

Market segmentation for specific beef and mutton/lamb cuts:

  • Market segmentation for individual red meat cuts were based on respondents’ consumption frequency for the various cuts, considered at four consumption frequency levels: weekly (‘weeklies’), 1 to 3 times per month (‘monthlies’), occasionally (‘occasionals’) and never (‘non-users’).
  • Among the low-income consumers the most popular red meat cuts (with the highest shares of ‘Weeklies’ and ‘Monthlies’ combined) were: offal in general (78.8%), beef stew (67.1%), beef mince (46.7%) and beef steak (43.0%). Offal was significantly more important among the low-income sample compared to the wealthier samples.
  • Among the middle-income consumers the most popular red meat cuts (with the highest shares of ‘Weeklies’ and ‘Monthlies’ combined) were: beef mince (89.6%), beef stew (84.2%), beef steak (59.1%), beef roast (48.5%), mutton/lamb chops (39.7%), offal in general (32.8%) and mutton/lamb roast (31.6%).
  • Among the high-income consumers the most popular red meat cuts (with the highest shares of ‘Weeklies’ and ‘Monthlies’ combined) were: beef mince (95.1%), beef stew (83.8%), beef steak (79.9%), mutton/lamb chops (69.4%), beef roast (60.5%), mutton/lamb stew (56.0%) and mutton/lamb roast (28.7%).
  • In terms of demographic variables the results indicated that consumers’ consumption frequency of red meat cuts did not generally differ in terms of household’s size and income as well as the respondent’s gender, age and ethnic group. However, the more aggregated wealth level of consumers (in other words whether they were among the low-, middle- or high-income samples) did make a differences in terms of their red meat intake frequency – with more frequent intake generally associated with higher income brackets.
  • In terms of typical weekly expenditure on particular red meat cuts, more regular low-income consumers revealed a tendency to spend more on red meat considering the segments for beef mince and beef steak. More regular middle-income consumers revealed a tendency to spend more on beef mince, beef steak, beef stew, beef roast, mutton/lamb chops and mutton/lamb roast.
  • In terms of typical quantity of raw red meat consumed per week, more regular middle-income consumers revealed a tendency to consume a larger weekly quantity of beef mince, mutton/lamb chops, mutton/lamb roast, mutton/lamb stew. More regular low-income consumer revealed a tendency to consume a larger weekly quantity of beef offal and mutton/lamb offal. The lack of significant differences for the other cuts within the three main samples once again imply that since more regular consumers and less regular consumers of red meat consume a similar quantity of red meat per week, the more regular segments could be consuming smaller quantities per (more regular) eating occasion.
  • For the various red meat cuts, considered for the low-, middle- and high-income samples, this section also presented information on consumers’ perceptions regarding beef and mutton/lamb, purchase factors, and best information sources to use to provide consumers with red meat information.
  • Across red meat cuts and socio-economic samples, consumers were very consistent in terms of their requirements for red meat labels, with preferences for detailed information and reliable information, date information (use-by date, sell-by date, last day of processing) and information pertaining to production processes (particularly in terms of the use of antibiotics / hormones and also free range in some cases).

Red meat labelling – What do consumers want and what do they see on labels?

  • The red meat labelling aspects that are highly desired by consumers and were widely observed on fresh red meat labels were: price, quality guaranteed, sell-by date and brand.
  • Despite being very important to consumers, labelling information relating to fat content, nutritional value and classification were not commonly observed on the fresh red meat labels.
  • In terms of date information packaging date, sell-by date and expiry date were the most commonly found on fresh red meat labels.


Red meat consumer education – key messages and marketing channels focusing on beef

Mrs Hester Vermeulen, Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy

Prof Hettie Schönfeldt, University of Pretoria

Dr Beulah Pretorius, University of Pretoria

 Acknowledgements: Project funding provided by Red Meat Research and Development SA (RMRD-SA)


‘Background’ pictures /photos of the following could work well with this article:

  • Consumer buying beef in a shop
  • Consumer preparing beef in kitchen
  • Eating beef in a restaurant
  • Braai with beef on the grid
  • Example of a nutritional label from a beef product


The share of South African adults within the various socio-economic sub-groups changed significantly from 2005 to 2015, with the marginalised consumers decreasing by 52%, the middle class increasing by 50% and the more affluent consumer group increasing by 32%. The future of the South African red meat industry relies on an industry that are profitable and able to adapt to changes in consumer demand, the production environment and sustainability.

In 2012 the South African red meat industry commissioned a comprehensive consumer study to investigate the red meat behaviour and perceptions of the South African low-, middle- and high-income consumers in Gauteng amongst 586 consumers. The study sample was designed to reflect the income, ethnic and age groups of the South African population. The focus of this article is specifically on the identification of key marketing messages and marketing channels for red meat marketing.

How do South African consumers perceive beef?

Respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements involving potential attributes of beef, pertaining to health / nutrition, affordability, product usage, product procurement, preparation, sensory quality and potential negative aspects.

Considering the positive perceptions of consumers regarding beef, there is significant overlap between income groups involving the following:

  • Product procurement: Beef is easy to obtain.
  • Product usage: Consumers know how to prepare beef, it is easy to cook the meat, it is versatile, good for entertaining and ideal for braai.
  • Sensory quality: Beef is tasty and tender and it does not smell bad.
  • Health / nutrition: Beef is a source of good quality protein and iron, it is nutritious and helps the body grow.
  • Product origin: Beef is locally produced and not imported.

The aspects which dominated the ‘positive’ set for beef of all income groups were: versatile, tasty, know how to prepare it, easy to obtain, good for entertaining, easy to cook and good quality protein source. Popularity when eating in a restaurant was also applicable to the middle-class and more affluent group, with higher importance in the latter group. Furthermore the more affluent group was also positive about further health / nutrition aspects (such as ‘healthy’ and ‘contains iron’), shelf life at home (‘does not go off fast’) and affordability (‘value for money’ and ‘not a luxury’).

Among marginalised and middle-class groups the major concerns (i.e. negative perceptions) focused on beef being expensive, having long cooking times and could cause health problems. Among the more affluent consumers the major beef concerns focused on specific health aspects (high in cholesterol, could cause health problems, can make me ill) and long cooking times required. A significantly larger share of the low-income sample was negative towards beef in terms of the following beef aspects: expensive, long cooking times required, can make me ill, high in fat and ‘not good for the heart’. In general a higher share of the marginalised group was in agreement with these negative aspects pertaining to beef, in contrast to a lower share of the more affluent consumers. As would be expected, consumers’ concerns regarding the affordability of beef decreased as income levels increased.

How do these perceptions translate into marketing messages to promote SA beef?

To enhance beef consumption in the South African context key marketing messages needs to take these observed perceptions into account. Beef product attributes and perceptions and translated marketing messages are proposed in

Table 1.

Product usage and preparation:

Across the socio-economic spectrum consumers were very positive about beef being versatile, easy to cook, knowing how to prepare it, good for entertaining and ideal for braai. The industry could invest or continue to invest in product- and recipe development to ensure that beef remains versatile, familiar, easy-to-cook, ‘trendy’ and a number one choice when entertaining of having a braai. Innovative ways to reduce beef cooking time for consumers with limited time should also be investigated, as well as innovative and tasty recipes to ‘stretch’ beef in dishes. However, it is important to consider the varying life styles, preferences and budgets of the socio-economic sub-groups in the process.

Sensory appeal:

All consumer segments were very positive about beef being tasty and not smelling bad. The middle-class was more positive about the tenderness of beef, even though tenderness was among the positive perceptions of all sub-groups. Sensory appeal is a critical product attribute for beef, even more so given its price premium about chicken meat. Production and product handling practices should continuously be improved, based on sound scientific research, to ensure ‘better beef’ – satisfying the sensory enjoyment needs of consumers of all income groups (e.g. in terms of taste, tenderness, smell and visual appeal).

Health – food safety:

Only the more affluent group was very positive about beef not spoiling fast at home. The lack of cold-storage facilities in the homes of lower-income consumers could contribute to this observation. However, there seems to be a need for consumer education on safe meat handling practices, particularly among the marginalised and middle-class groups.

Health – nutritional value:

All consumers perceived beef as being nutritious, a good quality protein source, helps the body grow and being a source of iron. Only the more affluent group were very positive about beef being ‘healthy’. The research results suggest that consumers (across the socio-economic spectrum) need to be educated on the nutritional value of beef, pertaining to various aspects such as macro-nutrients (i.e. protein, fat) and micro-nutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals). However, it should be kept in mind that the complexity of nutritional information communicated to consumers should be tailored to their typical educations levels.

Health – fat & cholesterol:

Over the last decade or two a growing body of scientific publications confirm the trend of consumers moving towards leaner red meat cuts. In this study consumers were concerned about beef in terms of fattiness, being high in cholesterol and the intake of beef linked to heart disease – with the marginalised group being particularly negative. Addressing consumers’ red meat fattiness concerns is critical, even more so in the light of the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity in South Africa. Corrective actions could include the following:

  • Presenting consumers with leaner beef cuts (e.g. through animal production processes and / or trimming of fat from beef cuts before sale).
  • Consumer education on the tasty preparation of leaner beef cuts (including aspects such as fat trimming at home and avoiding excessive fat intake through actions such as serving pan-drippings with meat with a high fat content).
  • Presenting consumers with a balanced and scientifically sound view on issues pertaining to beef fattiness, cholesterol and heart disease.

Product origin:

All consumers were positive that the beef they buy is usually local meat, suggesting some loyalty to locally produced beef. This is even more important if the large quantity of chicken being imported into the country is considered. The industry could do much more to communicate the origin of beef to consumers and extract some value from consumers’ loyalty towards locally produced meat.

Table 1: Proposed key marketing messages translated from consumers’ perceptions regarding beef meat

Product attributes and perceptions Key marketing strategies and messages
Product usage and preparation:
•     Versatile

•     Easy to cook

•     Knowing how to prepare

•     Good for entertaining

•     Ideal for braai

ü Continuous product- and recipe development to ensure that beef remains versatile, familiar, easy-to-cook, ‘trendy’ and a number one choice when entertaining or having a braai

ü Tasty recipes to ‘stretch’ beef in dishes

ü Innovative ways to reduce beef cooking time

Sensory appeal:
•     Beef is tasty

•     Beef is tender

•     Does not smell bad

ü Improved production and product handling practices based on sound scientific research, to ensure ‘better beef’
Health – food safety:
•     Beef do / does not spoil fast ü Consumer education on safe meat handling practices
Health – nutritional value:
•     Beef is nutritious

•     Beef is a good quality protein source

•     Beef helps the body grow

•     Beef is a source of iron

•     Beef is too fatty

•     Beef is high in cholesterol

•     Eating beef causes heart disease

ü Consumer relevant education on the nutritional value of beef, pertaining to various aspects such as macro-nutrients (i.e. protein, fat) and micro-nutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals).

ü Leaner beef cuts

ü Consumer education on the tasty preparation of leaner beef cuts

ü Presenting consumers with balanced and scientifically sound messages on issues pertaining to beef fattiness, cholesterol and heart disease

Product origin & Affordability:
•     Beef is locally produced

•     Expensive

ü Communicate the origin of beef to consumers

ü Address affordability issues through promoting it as an ‘essential luxury’ or by providing more affordable meat cuts to the consumer

Which communication channels are most suitable to communicate these marketing messages to SA consumers?

Being presented with a list of potential red meat information sources, consumers were asked to evaluate the usage and trust of these sources. Table 2 summarised the most used and trusted information sources amongst the different consumer groups to use in marketing strategies. However, given the diversity of the market the specific channels (e.g. which television channels or which newspapers) as well as the complexity of marketing messages has to be tailored to the behaviour and education levels of the targeted consumers.

Table 2: Highly used and highly trusted red meat information sources (Source: Survey data) 

Category: Information source: Marginalised




More affluent


Printed information sources: Magazines




ü û
Recipe books


Food labels




ü ü
Medical information sources: Doctors




û ü ü
Retail information sources: Retail stores


ü ü û


ü ü
Social information sources: Family




Broadcasting information sources: Television




Other information sources: Public health recommendations


ü ü ü
The food industry


û û ü

(NOTES: : Indicates red meat information sources that dominates for the particular sub-group)

Conclusions and implications

Red meat consumption lags behind white meat consumption in South Africa and is losing ground steadily. Marketing efforts to stimulate the consumption of red meat among consumers should build upon aspect where consumers are already positive about beef such as: versatility, know how to prepare, good for entertaining, taste and nutrition (a nutritious meat and a good quality protein source). Furthermore the negative perceptions (affordability, fat and cholesterol content, long cooking time and could be a cause of health problems) should be improved.

Given the dynamic nature of the South African consumer environment with constant socio-economic changes and the influence of global consumer trends, the preferences and behaviour of South African consumers have a very dynamic nature. Subsequently it could be particularly valuable for the South African red meat industry to engage in follow-up surveys of this nature every few years in order to keep track of these dynamic changes.

Please contact the Primary Researcher on the project if you need a copy of the comprehensive report – Hester Vermeulen on

Amino acid composition of South African beef

Determining the amino acid profile of selected cuts from four age groups of South African beef, as additional to the previously approved project on the nutrient content of South African beef, in order to determine protein quality.

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Red Meat Safety, Nutritional Value, Consumerism and Consumer Behaviour

Research Institute: Animal and Wildlife Science, University of Pretoria

Researcher: Prof Hettie Schönfeldt PhD

Team members

Title Initials Surname Qualification
Dr N. Hall Ph.D
Dr B. Pretorius Ph.D

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To determine the amino acid profile of South African beef
  • To determine the validity of using nitrogen and a specific Jones factor to define protein quantity
  • To determine the protein quality of South African beef in the context of human nutrition

Executive Summary

Globally protein quality is under the spotlight. The importance of protein quality was emphasized by both the 2007 and the 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization/ World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition reports. These reports questioned the validity of current measures to determine crude protein content and protein absorption, and called for more research. Locally, the national Department of Health Directorate Food Control’s most recent legislation on food labelling and advertising requires that in order to make protein content claims, amino acid data in addition to crude protein (nitrogen), is needed.

During this project, raw and cooked beef cuts (prime rib, rump and shoulder) from all four age groups according to the South African classification system were sent for amino acid analyses at the ARC Irene Analytical laboratory.

Aligning with international debates, a literature review was completed to investigate existing literature on the validity of using the Jones factor of 6.25 to quantify the amount of protein from nitrogen within the red meat matrix. Amino acid data obtained was also compared to the use of the Jones factor to quantify the total protein content of red meat, and alternative factors were explored – similar to what has been done by Sosulki et al. in 1990. Mariotti et al (2008) also queried the use of 6.25 as the converting factor for red meat. Our study found that complete amino acid profiles of local beef amounted to 91% on average of protein based on total Nitrogen content (in weight). This indicates that there is an overestimation of protein in beef when the conversion factor of 6.25is used.

For local legislative purposes, the study found that all cuts from all age groups contain adequate quantities of the essential amino acids as required by the R.429 Food Labelling Legislation. This provides the scientific evidence required for South African beef to make protein content and functional protein claims on packaging and in marketing activities.

Technology transfers

  1. Participation of the Human Nutrition and Health Committee Meeting of the International Meat Secretariat (Canada, 1-3 July, 2015) (Addendum 2)
  2. Participation of the Human Nutrition and Health Committee Meeting of the International Meat Secretariat (Oslo, Norway, 15-18 July, 2016) (Addendum 2)

Reports to Industry

  1. NRF-THRIP progress report 2014
  2. NRF-THRIP final report 2015
  3. RMRD SA Progress report 2014
  4. RMRD SA Progress report 2015

Scientific articles

  1. Schönfeldt H.C., Pretorius B. and Hall, N. (2016) ‘Bioavailability of Nutrients’, In: Caballero, B., Finglas, P., and Toldrá, F. (eds.) The Encyclopedia of Food and Health vol. 1, pp. 401-406. Oxford: Academic Press.
  2. Article to be submitted after presenting “Updating and expanding the Food Composition Table for Western Africa“ at International Food Data Conferences (IFDC) – Official INFOODS conference. Center for Science in the Science and Technology Pole, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11-13 October 2017.
  3. Article to be submitted after presenting “Amino acid and protein content of lean beef“ at International Food Data Conferences (IFDC) – Official INFOODS conference. Center for Science in the Science and Technology Pole, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11-13 October 2017.


  1. Hall, N. 2015. Sustainable red meat from a nutrition perspective. University of Pretoria.

Conferences, symposia

  1. Co-author FAO/INFOODS (2017) Updating and expanding the Food Composition Table for Western Africa. 12th International Food Data Conference (IFDC) – Official INFOODS conference.
    Center for Science in the Science and Technology Pole, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11-13 October 2017.
  2. Schönfeldt, H.C., Hall, N., Pretorius, B. and Van Deventer, M.M. (2017) Amino acid and protein content of lean beef. 12th International Food Data Conference (IFDC) – Official INFOODS conference. Center for Science in the Science and Technology Pole, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11-13 October 2017.

Literature review

  1. Hall, N.G. and Schönfeldt, H.C. (2013) ‘Total nitrogen vs amino-acid profile as indicator of protein content of beef’, Food Chemistry. 140 (3): 608-612.

Popular Article

Globally protein quality is under the spotlight

Hettie Schönfeldt, Beulah Pretorius, Nicolette Hall, Maricia van Deventer

Department of Animal and Wildlife Sciences, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Well-being, University of Pretoria.

There has been much discussion regarding protein and amino acid requirements for both adults and children over the past few years.

Conventionally, protein content is determined by analysing the total nitrogen content in a food, and multiplying this by a standard conversion factor to obtain protein quantity – referred to as “crude protein”. Because proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, they can be hydrolysed and the separate amino acids can then be measured. The sum of the amino acids then represents the protein content (by weight) of the food. This is sometimes referred to as a “true protein”. This method however needs sophisticated equipment and is more expensive.

A project at the University of Pretoria aimed to determine the protein content and amino acid profile of South African beef (raw and cooked) and to establish if different cuts in the carcass and/or age of the animal influences the amino acid profile of South African beef.

Crude protein and amino acid analyses were done on 36 meat samples from Bonsmara carcasses from fat code two and all four age groups according to the South African Carcass Classification System. Three cuts (rump, prime rib and shoulder) were selected from each carcass and analyses were done on both raw and cooked meat.

Age had no significant effect on the sum of all amino acids (true protein) in both raw and cooked cuts. In the cooked cuts crude protein were found to be significantly different between the age groups for the different cuts. It should however be noted that these differences, although statistically significant, probably have little relevance in terms of human dietary requirements for protein as they differ by less than 2 g per 100 g cooked meat.

The data generated by this study is of further interest as discussions regarding the validity of nitrogen analyses for protein quantity determination and methods used to assess protein quality unfold. Table 1 shows the percentage of total amino acids to protein calculated with the Jones factor. It would be more appropriate to base estimates of protein on amino acid data.

Table 1: Percentage of sum of amino acids (‘true protein’) to protein calculated from total nitrogen using the Jones-factor (‘crude protein’)

Cut Raw / Cooked Percentage (Sum of amino acids / protein calculated from total nitrogen x 100)
Rump Raw 95%
Cooked 89%
Prime rib Raw 97%
Cooked 90%
Shoulder Raw 94%
Cooked 89%

Instead of simply focussing on total protein, attention has shifted to the greater importance of protein quality than actual quantity, emphasising the presence of individual amino acids in a food. One method of measuring protein quality is determining the quantity of the total essential amino acids and the digestibility of the protein source (PDCAAS). Data on the amino acid composition of foods is therefore essential in order to contribute to the current global discussion.

Protein quality answers two important questions namely, how much protein as well as what kind of protein should be consumed. Dietary proteins are classified as either being complete or incomplete. Some foods, such as animal source food, contain all indispensable (essential) amino acids and are referred to as a complete protein. Plant foods, on the other hand, lack one or more essential amino acid, which renders these sources of protein “incomplete”. Amino acids containing sulfur (including methionine and cysteine) and lysine most commonly limit the nutritional value (quality) of proteins in the human diet. Concentrations of these amino acids are, generally, considered lower in plant foods than in food of animal origin. In table 2 the lysine, methionine and cysteine content of commonly consumed food products is reported. Other essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, are also consistently found at lower concentrations in plant-based rather than animal-based foods. For example, tryptophan and lysine are limiting in corn; lysine in wheat, sorghum, and other cereals; and methionine in soybeans and other legumes. Including a small amount of lean beef in combination with plant-based foods can increase the protein quality of the meal.

Table 2: Lysine, methionine and cysteine content of commonly consumed food products

Food source  Food Range (mg/100g) from different studies
Lysine Methionine Cysteine
Animal products Beef and Veal (edible flesh) 531–591 147–182 78–182
Chicken (edible flesh) 384–606 88–215 64–114
Offal 375–506 138–181 62–132
Mutton and lamb (edible flesh) 438–589 131–198 63–144
Hen eggs 375–467 181–249 113–189
Fish (fresh, all types) 380–689 120–290 28–144
Legumes Chick-pea 406–463 34–106 50–94
Cowpea 394–479 50–119 48–106
Soya bean 313–477 53–114 51–114
Cereals & grain products Barley 159–250 63–250 81–194
Maize 100–214 53–175 38–200
Millet 100–244 84–246 69–169
Rice (brown or husked) 198–263 117–194 30–79
Rye (whole meal) 151–281 59–181 85–156
Wheat (whole grain) 131–249 63–156 111–212
Roots and tubers Potato 163–488 54–125 7–81

The protein and indispensable amino acid profile of lean beef is reported in table 3. This is compared to the recommended protein requirement of 0.66 g/kg body weight/ day and the amino acid scoring pattern for children older than 3 years, adolescents and adults. According to the South African Food Based Dietary Guideline a serving of red meat can be eaten daily, but should not be more than 90g/day.

Table 3: Dietary protein and indispensable amino acid profile of cooked beef, cow’s milk, cooked soya beans compared to the recommended amino acid scoring pattern for children (3-10years), adolescents and adults

Cooked lean beef Full cream cow’s milk Cooked soya beans Recommended protein and amino acid scoring pattern for older children, adolescents and adults
“Crude” protein (g/100g) 31.8 3.25 18.21 0.66 g/kg/day50kg person = 33g

70 kg person = 46g

Amino acid
(mg/g total protein)
Histidine (His) 28 28 25 16
Isoleucine (Ile) 44 54 44 30
Leucine (Leu) 74 94 74 61
Lysine (Lys) 97 79 61 48
Sulphur amino acids (SAA) Methionine (Met) + Cysteine (Cys) 63 39 27 23
Aromatic amino acids (AAA) Phenylalanine (Phe) + Tyrosine (Tyr) 73 97 83 41
Threonine (Thr) 44 48 40 25
Tryptophan (Thp) 16 12 13 6.6
Valine (Val) 46 59 46 40

The study found that South African beef from all age groups adheres to the requirements as set out by the Department of Health to be labelled and proclaimed as a complete, quality protein.

It is of interest to note that the true protein was consistently lower in the cooked meat compared to the raw meat and that the different cuts varied in the respective amino acid profiles. While the measurement of crude protein (total nitrogen multiplied by a factor) is adequate for many purposes, amino acid data would provide a better assessment of the nutritional value of a food. Through this study the amino acid profile of South African lean beef was determined and is available for future studies.

Acknowledgement: This study was funded by Red Meat Research and Development of South Africa (RMRD SA) and the National Research Foundation Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (NRF-THRIP) (Project id: Tp1208076284).

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Prof H.C. Schonfeldt on

Blackfly outbreak predictive model

Development of a predictive management model for Orange River blackfly outbreaks

Industry Sector: Cattle And Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Products, Quality and Value-adding

Research Institute: University of KwaZulu-Natal

Researcher: Dr Nicholas Rivers-Moore PhD

Research Team:

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Dr Helen Dallas PhD
Dr Robert Palmer PhD
Mr Shahin Naidoo BSc (Hons)
Ms Esther Ndou BSc (Hons)

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To determine the amino acid profile of South African beef
  • To determine the validity of using nitrogen and a specific Jones factor to define protein quantity
  • To determine the protein quality of South African beef in the context of human nutrition

Executive Summary

Blackfly outbreaks on the Orange River impact on the agricultural sector through loss in conception, stock mortalities and loss in body weight gain, with losses of over R333 million pa. The Blackfly Control Programme has been in place for some twenty years, using a combination of bacterial and organophosphate applications at river breeding sites. This should have resulted in as many years worth of monitoring data, which, in analysis with flow data, would have provided a useful long-term dataset. Given acknowledged challenges, this has not been the case to the degree hoped for, with periodic outbreaks of blackfly continuing to occur, and the monitoring dataset being patchy and seldom evaluated. New thinking is needed that builds on existing research to reduce the chances of repeated outbreaks.

The aims of this study were threefold: to test and refine an existing Bayesian network predictive model of blackfly outbreaks; to undertake climate change scenario analyses to assist with future planning; and to provide an evaluation framework for blackfly monitoring data.

Fourteen sites between Douglas and Blouputs were monitored over four surveys: November 2015; March 2016; July 2016 and December 2016.

Data collected were blackfly samples (by species, density and relative abundances), hydraulic data (current velocities associated with multiple sample points per site), and water quality data (spot measurements of pH, conductivity, turbidity). Hourly air temperature data has been collected for 13 sites using Hobo TidBit data loggers, for 4 November 2015-5 December 2016. Water quality was fairly consistent between sites, but showed seasonal variation. Conductivity and pH had little impact on blackfly species patterns, with the exception of very high (> 1000μ conductivities in the irrigation return flow channels. Diatom data do, however, suggest that conductivities in the main Orange River have been increasing. Turbidity was a key driver in triggering ecosystem switching between dominance of pest blackfly species, and other blackfly species co-occurring with benthic algae.

Data confirm that the Orange River system switches between two states, viz. a high turbidity state favouring pest blackfly, and a clearer state favouring algal growth and where blackfly numbers are lower. Flow volumes and water temperatures affect turbidity levels, efficacy of larvicides, and availability of habitat for various ecosystem components (benthic algae, blackfly species). Thresholds were successfully identified from the abiotic-biotic relationships, which were incorporated into a Bayesian network model to predict the probability of blackfly outbreaks.

A predictive management framework was successfully constructed. An evaluation framework where ongoing monitoring by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and stakeholder involvement has been integrated through the development of a mobile phone App with an associated website. These are available through the Google Play App store (search for “Muggies”) and at respectively. These also include links to two YouTube videos explaining how to download the App and to upload data, with explanations of the scoring systems. All data uploaded makes use of Google Pins, so that the data are geo-referenced. Model predictions are available to users.

Additional comments

A follow up article in Landbouweekblad has been confirmed with Landbouweekblad staff. Both MSc studies are due to be submitted in the next 1-3 months respectively. Two scientific papers from this research are currently being prepared for submission and review.


  • To test and refine the recently developed pilot probabilistic blackfly outbreak model by inclusion of temperature and turbidity data, and using previous flows and monitoring data
  • To undertake climate change scenario analyses to assist future management planning
  • To provide an evaluation framework for monitoring data of blackfly larval densities, based on the outbreak model


Boere wen oorlog teen muggies

Dr. Nick Rivers-Moore.

Boere in die omgewing van die Middelen Benede-Oranjerivier kan nou danksy tegnologie en ’n nuwe model help om muggie-uitbrekings beter te bestuur.

Met die selfoontoepassing Muggies kan enigiemand inligting deurgee wanneer groot getalle muggies in die 1 200 km van die Oranjerivier tussen Hopetown en Sendelingsdrif voorkom.

Die inligting sal saam met ander gereelde waarnemings deur die staat in ’n nuwe voorspellende bestuursmodel gebruik word om groot uitbrekings van muggies beter te kan bekamp. Die model, die toepassing en die webwerf is in ’n navorsingsprojek ontwikkel wat in Julie vanjaar voltooi is. Die navorsing, onder leiding van dr. Nick Rivers-Moore, is deur die Waternavorsingskommissie (WNK) en die nasionale organisasie vir rooivleisnavorsing en -ontwikkeling (RMRDSA) gefinansier.


Die skade wat veeboere, spesifiek skaapboere, in dié gebiede aan die Oranjerivier ly, is sowat tien jaar gelede op minstens R300 miljoen per jaar geraam. Mnr. Hoffie Joubert, lid van Agri SA se nasionale waterkomitee belas met die uggieprobleem, sê dit is nou waarskynlik baie meer.

Luidens die jongste navorsingsverslag, Development of a Predictive Management Tool for Orange River Blackfly Outbreaks, kom verskeie muggiespesies in die gebied voor, maar dit is veral Simulium chutteri wat boere laat skade ly. Die ander spesies wat probleme veroorsaak, is S.damnosum, S. nigritarse en S. adersi. Volwasse wyfies van S. chutteri en S. damnosum voed op soogdiere se bloed, en laasgenoemde twee s’n op voëls.

Nick sê mannetjies vreet nek- tar en stuifmeel. Wyfies vreet ook hoofsaaklik nektar, maar het soos muskiete proteïen uit bloed nodig vir hul eiers om te ontwikkel. Dit is egter nie net skape en dus boere wat geraak word nie. Uitbrekings van muggies raak ook die toerismebedryf en inwoners van die omgewing. Die ergernisvlakke raak in ’n uitbreking van muggies so hoog dat werkers nie kan werk nie en toeriste sulke gebiede vermy. Luidens die verslag word die bestuur van die probleem bemoeilik omdat daar verskeie groepe met verskillende belange is, wat teen mekaar opgeweeg moet word. Ideale omstandighede vir groot uitbrekings hou onder meer verband met die volume water wat in die rivier vloei. Muggies hou van troebel water wat vinnig vloei. “Wanneer water stadiger vloei, is dit helderder. Water wat vinniger vloei, is troebeler. S. chutteri voed op sy doeltreffendste met watervloei van meer as 100 m per sekonde of ’n spoed van meer as 1 m/sekonde,” sê Nick.

Die vloei van die Oranjerivier het deur die jare aansienlik verander vanweë verskillende waterskemas, soos die Vanderkloofdam sedert 1977, die Gifkloofdam sedert 1971 en dan ook meer onlangs die Lesotho-Hooglandwaterprojek.
Veeboere verkies dalk ’n laer watervloei om uitbrekings van muggies te voorkom, maar besproeiingsboere met wingerd het meer water nodig, en Eskom het ’n bepaalde watervloei nodig om hidro-elektrisiteit op te wek.

Luidens die verslag moet ’n mens onthou dat hoewel muggies as ’n plaag beskou kan word, is dit ook ’n belangrike bron van voedsel vir baie roofdiere in die water is. “Die bestuursdoelwit behoort eerder die beheer as die uitwissing van muggies te wees.”


Die uitbrekings van muggies kom van tyd tot tyd voor. Die jongste een was in 2011 en voor dit in 2000-’01. Die staat het in die vroeë 1990’s met bestrydingsprogramme begin. Dit behels die toediening van ’n larwedoder vanuit ’n helikopter. Dit word gewoonlik drie keer in die herfs en ses keer in die lente toegedien. Twee middels is in Suid-Afrika vir die bestryding van muggies geregistreer: Vectobac® ( L7224, Wet 36/1947) en Abate® ( L2413). Opvolgnavorsing is onder meer tien jaar later gedoen om te kyk na alternatiewe larwedoders weens weerstandigheid by larwes teen temefos, ’n bestanddeel van Abate®.

Ondanks die bestrydingsprogram het uitbrekings steeds voorgekom, wat mense skepties laat raak het. Luidens die verslag hang die sukses van die program baie af van die korrekte tydsberekening van die toediening. Die redes vir die herhaalde en voortdurende uitbrekings is ingewikkeld. Dit sluit in hoër as normale watervloei in die winter, veranderinge in troebelheid, afwisseling van die oorheersende muggiespesie, larwedoderweerstandigheid en bestuurskwessies.


Verskeie pogings is al aangewend om die voorkoms van uitbrekings te verminder, waaronder ’n geïntegreerde bestrydingsprogram en voortgesette monitering, ’n waarskynliksheidsmodel om te kan voorspel wanneer volwasse wyfies ’n groot ergernis kan wees, optimalisering van larwedodertoedienings en die skep van ’n advieskomitee. Nie een het die gewenste gevolge gehad nie. As deel van navorsing in 2014 is onder meer vasgestel dat die mees onlangse uitbrekings waarskynlik eerder aan bestuurskwessies as biologiese kwessies toegeskryf kan word. Verder taan belanghebbendes se belangstelling gewoonlik wanneer die probleem nie groot is nie, en verhoog eers weer wanneer daar ’n uitbreking is.
“Die probleem is tipies van die meeste plaagbestrydingsprogramme, en wys op die behoefte aan langtermyntoesig,” lui die verslag.

Die doelwitte van die jongste navorsing het ingesluit om ’n voorspellende model te ontwikkel, vir die eerste keer data oor troebelheid en watertemperatuur in te sluit, en ook te kyk na die moontlike invloed van klimaatsverandering. Alle vorige navorsingsinligting is wéér ontleed, maar dié keer saam met nuwe inligting wat in 2015 en 2016 ingesamel is. Dit het onder meer weeklikse troebelheidsen uurlikse watertemperatuurinligting ingesluit. Seisoenale insamelings van larwes en papies is ook in verskillende hidrolitiese biotope en habitatte gedoen om seisoenale veranderinge in die betreklik hoë voorkoms van verskillende muggiespesies te kan verstaan. Om die moontlike invloed van klimaatsverandering te kan bepaal, is inligting van die Universiteit van KwaZulu-Natal se departement hidrologie gebruik, wat aandui watervloei kan in die nabye toekoms 60% hoër wees.


Die belangrikste bevindings van die jongste navorsing is: Die gehalte van water by die verskillende terreine was redelik dieselfde, maar het volgens seisoene gewissel. Die geleidingsvermoë van water en die pH-vlakke het ’n klein invloed op die patrone van muggiespesies gehad. Troebelheid was ’n sleutelrede vir ’n ander muggiespesie om die oorheersende een te word. Die water se vloeivolume en temperatuur het ’n invloed op troebelheidsvlakke, die doeltreffendheid van larwedoders en die beskikbaarheid van habitat vir verskeie ekostelsel-onderdele. Drempels is in die muggies se abiotiese-biotiese-verhoudings geïdentifiseer en in die model ingesluit waarmee die waarskynlikheid van uitbrekings van muggies voorspel kan word.


Vir die voorspellende bestuursraamwerk om suksesvol te wees, moet die insameling van inligting oor konsentrasies van muggies voortgaan. Inligting moet ook ingesamel word oor troebelheid en die voorkoms of afwesigheid van bentiese alge, wat verband hou met troebelheid. Al hierdie inligting moet, tesame met die lastigheidsindeks, op die webwerf gelaai word.
Die voorspellingsmodel moet dan met die inligting bygewerk en die verskillende data-onderdele moet van tyd tot tyd geoudit word. Wat egter ook baie belangrik is, is dat ’n “kampvegter” na vore moet tree, wat die raamwerk sal administreer en die maandelikse tariewe sal betaal vir die webwerf en die selfoontoepassing.

Die navorsers stel ook voor dat die ekonomiese invloed van muggies in die streek hersien word. Hoffie is opgewonde oor die bevindinge in die jongste navorsing en verwelkom die voorstel dat weer na die ekonomiese invloed gekyk word. “Inligting oor die omvang van die ekonomiese skade is belangrik vir die regverdiging van die toediening van larwedoder.” Hy sê die invloed van die gehalte van water op die toediening van middels moet ook nagevors word. Tans steun die plaagbestrydingsprogram net op die gebruik van Vectobac®, ’n organiese middel, weens die weerstand wat teen Abate®
ontwikkel het. Abate® het egter ’n baie groter reikafstand.

Hoffie sê die voorgeskrewe tydperk wat Abate® nie gebruik kon word nie, is nou verstreke en dit is belangrik dat dit weer getoets word. Agri Noord-Kaap gaan boere aan die rivier uitwys om die toepassing te gebruik om inligting oor muggies deur te gee en die organisasie sal dit monitor.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –
Nicholas Rivers-Moore on blackfly1@vodamailcom