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Is SA really importing 'chicken waste'?

Oct 19 2016 19:20
*Stephan Brink

An importer provides clarity on the misconception around chicken “waste” and “leftovers” entering the country, while also challenging the SA Poultry Association to provide exact numbers of job losses owing to imported chicken. This is in response to an opinion piece by CEO Kevin Lovell entitled The war of the chickens that was originally published in City Press and republished by Fin24. 

The vast majority of South Africa’s informed and intelligent consumers would have recognised this opinion piece, by the poultry industry’s pied (or is that paid) piper, as yet another emotional, slightly hysterical, but always entertaining spin doctoring exercise in vague statistics, untested assumptions and questionable conclusions.

As a member of the South African food industry, therefore pro-consumer as opposed to merely pro-industry or, more narcissistically, pro-industry sector, it may be informative to provide a bit of background, while testing and clarifying a few of the statements made.

As Lovell points out, the various regulatory boards, including the meat board, disbanded in the early 90’s. In the process South Africans not only exited decades of political and economic oppression, but it also triggered the demise of many entities in various sectors which were artificially sustained via heavy subsidies and excessive protectionism during the dark days of Apartheid and isolation.  

READ: Chicken wars: SA poultry producers must stop whingeing - Amie

Sectors of agriculture, including the poultry industry, unfortunately struggled from the outset to compete in a global free market sans government subsidies and government assisted price, as well as supply and demand fixing. The latter, for clarification, involved government regulation of shortfall (importation) and oversupply (absorption) to effectively ensure profitability, irrespective of effectiveness and obviously with no regard for the consumer.  

Sadly, two decades on and unlike most other sectors of the local animal protein industry, the poultry industry has refused to collectively revisit its business model, investigate carcass and portion subsidising (as is the case in other local animal protein sectors) or make a concerted effort to conform to the international health and sanitary requirements (as imports do) to open and access new export markets.  

Instead it has only relied on continuously demanding and sadly being afforded protectionism via excessive import taxes, as well as heavily investing in brining, which inflates the over-the-counter portion weight to consumers while decreasing the protein per kilo weight.

READ: US hits out at SA over 'botox' chicken

As has been the case before, Lovell once again makes reference to the terms “leg quarters”, “waste”, “leftovers” and “dark meat”. For the sake of clarification, a leg quarter consists of a drumstick and a thigh, which is to be found in the “braaipacks” of all the major South African poultry producers, on the shelves of all the major supermarkets and on the braais of most South African households every weekend, whether local or imported.  

Surely he is not terming what his constituents are producing and selling as “waste” and “leftovers”?  He is correct in referring to it as dark meat though, as the muscles in the drumsticks and thighs contain more natural moisture and connective tissue, resulting in more flavour and juiciness.

Lovell’s reference to “at least 12 businesses” and “easily as many as 12 000 direct and indirect job losses” is also frankly very vague to me. Can he provide an exact number that excludes companies that were purchased by like companies or rescaled and absorbed into existing like companies?  

Can he also confirm the exact number of direct job losses, as indirect job losses are immeasurable, indefinite and mostly used as an inflationary tool to support an argument?  

At the same time it would also be best to confirm how many employees were redeployed in the mentioned restructurings and amalgamations, which have only served to further expand the existing huge poultry conglomerates.

Lastly I am glad that Lovell made reference to the fact that the poultry industry is the second biggest consumer of maize in South Africa. He should maybe have added that said maize is mostly purchased from subsidiaries that are in the same multi-national groups as the poultry companies though.

*Stephan Brink is import manager of Brito’s Group of Companies and general manager of Brito’s Food International.

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sapa  |  amie  |  chicken industry
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