Chicken brining rules will devastate SA, poultry body warns

Cape Town - The SA Poultry Association (Sapa) has lambasted the new maximum brine limit in chicken as set out by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

The department gazetted new regulations over the sale of poultry meat, adjusting the maximum brine limit for individually quick frozen (IQF) and fresh chicken portions to 15% and for whole chicken to 10%.

However, Sapa CEO Kevin Lovell said in a statement the organisation is contesting the amendments.

The new rules, he said, "will render chicken unaffordable for many of the poor, shrink the local poultry sector, increase unemployment and weaken the outlook for soya bean processing and maize production".

Lovell indicated that all the scientific, technical and economic information that Sapa supplied to DAFF during the consultations on brining has been ignored.

“Besides the potentially devastating results on local poultry production and the jobs that depend on it, this constitutes an assault on the poor of South Africa who will now find the price of IQF chicken unaffordable.”

READ: New chicken row brewing in SA

Lovell said Sapa has been pushing for the last 10 years to have these regulations updated in a way that benefits all parties in the poultry value chain, with the assurance that consumers can be certain that what they believe they are buying is what they actually get.

“But having refused to consider the true facts of brining, its purpose for improving meat quality, and most importantly the manner in which this practice actually improves the national diet by reducing the cost of South Africa’s favourite protein product, these regulations will reduce the size of the largest sector of local agricultural production and cause considerable job losses – all of this for no good reason.”

Lovell noted that chicken importers have long campaigned against local brined IQF as they have to date not been able to compete in this market segment.

“For every 10 000 tonnes of chicken imported we lose over a 1 000 local, direct and indirect job opportunities in our economy. These regulations will simply heighten our attractiveness as an export destination for the chicken pieces the developed world doesn’t eat, and our ability to feed ourselves as a country through sustainable and secure food production will be reduced.”

Chicken prices could go up - union

Meanwhile, the South African National Consumer Union (Sancu) said while the new rules are seen as a win for consumers, there are fears that chicken prices could go up.

"The fears are a result of clever marketing by those who have invested into brining to the maximum possible extent. The apparent price may well go up, but this is because there will (at least after 6 months) be more chicken and less salty water per kg in the pack than now," said Sancu's Dr Clif Johnston.

"There will, however, also be more competition in the market in future. Right now, the smaller producers cannot afford the sophisticated equipment currently used by the major producers to pump as much brine as possible into the chicken. The smaller producers will be more able to compete at the 15% level, and this will help to keep prices down."

Johnston said Sancu members believe brining is unnecessary.  

"Its real purpose is to mislead the consumer into buying what appears to be a cheaper product. Most consumers know how to improve the succulence of meat products easily and cheaply by marinating them. For this reason, Sancu is opposed to all levels of brining."

He urged consumers to watch out for similar practices in the red meat industry.  

"We have found budget 'mince' and 'wors' products where the water content is 30% - correctly labelled, but the printing is so small you can barely read it."

South Africa recently held tough talks during the renewal of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) where it entered into a deal to allow a tariff free import of 65 000 metric tonnes of American chicken into the country.

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