Consumers rule the roost

2013-06-12 00:00

THE consumer is king — this is the one invariable in the heated debate on tariffs between local poultry farmers and chicken importers in South Africa.

Local farmers want importers to pay tariffs to protect what they say are more than 100 000 jobs, as well as a local industry. Importers say imported chicken is a source of cheap protein and tariffs would make it unaffordable for most people.

Professor Hettie Schönfeldt, a consumer expert at the University of Pretoria, said the consumers prefer imported chicken because the fowls are bigger and not injected with brine.

He explained that local chickens are processed when they are about 35 days old, but in Europe and Brazil the fowls are killed when they are about 42 days old. In the extra seven days, the birds become 20% bigger.

Local regulations also allow brine to be injected of up to eight percent of the carcass weight, but in practice certain chicken pieces contain up to 30% brine.

Schönfeldt said brine definitely reduces the nutritional value of chicken. He said consumers are king and could decide what they wanted.

Schönfeldt said consumers often did not know their chicken meat had been injected with brine, which was misleading and contrary to the Consumer Protection Act.

“I think the consumer definitely prefers a product that has not been tampered with. An alternative is naturally to buy fresh meat if one can afford to do so.”

He added that the local poultry industry was financially very strong and doubted they really needed protection from what they had described as dumping from Europe and Brazil.

Ina Wilken, a consumer activist, said the consumers look for the most value and best quality for their money.

She said the touted tariff increase of 82% would make chicken unaffordable for most consumers, but encouraged consumers to buy local if the producers met certain criteria.

CEO of the South African Poultry Association Kevin Lovell said South Africans on average ate 36 kg of chicken a year, making chicken meat a national staple, compared to the average of about 17 kg of red meat a consumer eats annually.

He said the entire poultry industry provided more than 60% of the country’s animal protein intake, including meat and eggs.

“People have to see brine as a type of marinade that gives the meat taste.”

He said, from about half of the imported “cheap” chicken from Europe, about a third of the fowls came from Brazil and were “dumped” in South Africa.

David Wolpert of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (Amie) dismissed the claims that imported chicken is cheaper than locally farmed fowls.

He said imported meat is about R10 per kilogram more expensive than local meat.

“In my experience, people prefer imported meat because it has no brine,” he said.

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