Spat over saltwater levels in SA chicken

Cape Town - The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of SA (Amie) said on Tuesday it does not agree with the SA Poultry Association (Sapa) that new regulations limiting the practice of injecting chicken with saltwater (brining) would render chicken unaffordable to the poor and hurt the local industry.

David Wolpert, CEO of Amie, told Fin24 that as far as his organisation is concerned brining amounts to "customer abuse". That is why he and Amie are happy that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) decided to limit brining levels as from October after having completed investigations into the issue.

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 at 10%.

According to Wolpert current brining levels for portions of some locally produced chicken could even be as high as 30% to 40%.

"We are saying it is nonsense that the price of local chicken will go up if the brining levels are reduced to 15%," said Wolpert. In his view all that brining enables is "the selling of water for the price of chicken".

READ: Chicken brining rules will devastate SA, poultry body warns

He pointed out that the current brining levels in SA and even the new limit of 15% are higher than the usual limits found overseas.

"SA consumers have a right to know the basic facts. Many countries have an 8% guideline limit on brining. Our Brics partner, Brazil, the world’s largest poultry exporter, has banned brining altogether," said Wolpert.

"Imported meat is, for the most part, not brined, and if it is brined, nowhere near local levels. Government’s brining regulations are a commendable attempt to follow international best practice."

According to Wolpert, chicken imported to SA from the US and the European Union are not brined.

READ: New chicken row brewing in SA

"Yes, imported chicken is more expensive, but the demand is there because of its quality since it has not been brined," said Wolpert.

Sapa is contesting the amendments in order to prevent the new brining limits from being implemented and for them to be reviewed. On the other hand, Amie is happy with the 15% limit, although it would actually be in favour of even lower limits.

"At least the new 15% limit is a step in the right direction in our view," he said.  

"Why the threat of increased prices? All that is required is smaller packs with current chicken levels and less water. This could be sold at current prices."

According to Wolpert, frozen chicken accounts for about 80% to 90% of the local market.

Sapa CEO Kevin Lovell, on the other hand, said in May that the new rules "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".

In his view, all the scientific, technical and economic information that Sapa supplied to DAFF during the consultations on brining has been "ignored".

"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. For every 10 000 tonnes of chicken imported we lose over a 1 000 local, direct and indirect job opportunities in our economy," said Lovell.

ALSO READ: Chicken price hike will shock South Africans - Amie

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