March 4, 2019
South Africa's poultry sector calls for suspension of poultry imports
South Africa could create more than 30,000 jobs, if it chooses to go protectionist - that is, by blocking chicken imports, the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) claimed.
According to Sunday Tribune, the impact of imports on the country's chicken production industry was best illustrated in 2017, when RCL, the company that owns Rainbow Chicken, sold 15 of its 25 farms in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, and retrenched 1,350 workers.
Other major companies, namely Country Bird and Mike's Chickens, had let go 1,500 and 1,000 workers, respectively.
Izaak Breitenbach, general manager of SAPA's broiler organisation, blamed imports for job losses, arguing that 30,000 jobs could be created "by replacing imports, which were worth R6 billion (US$421 million)" in 2018.
In fact, South Africa is known to be a top chicken producer in terms of cost and quality.
"The [Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy] report showed that we were the fifth most competitive producer of poultry in the world. The chicken industry in countries that ranked higher than us, like the US and Brazil, were subsidised by their respective governments," Breitenbach pointed out.
"They receive subsidies for maize and soya feed in those countries; after all, feed represents 70% of the input cost to raise chicken. South Africa is a semi-desert country. Therefore, it is more expensive to produce maize and soya, which affects production costs."
Breitenbach said equipment used in the chicken industry in Brazil is also subsidised.
That Brazil was the largest exporter of chicken to South Africa was another concern for Breitenbach, as one of Brazil's biggest food producers, BFR SA, recently recalled almost 500 tonnes of chicken due to possible salmonella contamination.
According to Breitenbach, 55 containers of poultry enter South Africa daily and are then sold at very cheap prices. 60.5% of these imports originated from Brazil - with 348155 tonnes of chicken coming from that country.
Breitenbach claimed that port authorities' inability to "physically test all of the containers of chicken" is a weakness that exporters have exploited, delivering meat along those that may be contaminated.
It is this problem that prompted Breitenbach to call on the country's Department of Agriculture to suspend all Brazilian imports. "[The] government needs to step in and protect the local industry and the thousands of jobs at stake," he said.
Breitenbach is not alone in expressing negative sentiments towards imports.
"We're not scared if whole chicken carcasses come into the country; we could compete. We cannot compete with the prices that leg quarters are being dumped in South Africa for," said Marthinus Stander, chairperson of Country Bird, one of the top three chicken producers in South Africa.
Chicken thighs and drumsticks are referred to as "brown meat" in the industry and are not the preferred cuts of consumers, especially in Europe. They prefer "white meat" (breast portions), which results in unwanted brown meat being dumped in third world countries.
Stander believed that stopping imports will allow the South African economy to grow.
"At present, only the middle men (importers) are benefiting and the [South African] industry is dying," he remarked.
- Sunday Tribune