Chicken importers head to court

2013-06-06 20:31
South Africans could pay up to 50% more for chicken at the till as soon as July or August. (<a href=\\>Shutterstock</a>)

South Africans could pay up to 50% more for chicken at the till as soon as July or August. (Shutterstock)

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Johannesburg - The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (Amie) will file an application at the High Court in Pretoria related to import duty costs for chicken, it said on Thursday.

The action was about obtaining confidential information which might shed light on what future chicken import duty costs should be, Amie executive committee member Georg Southey said in Johannesburg.

In March, the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) applied for an increase in import duties, which Amie said could be up to 82% from 24%, and which it opposed.

The International Trade Administration Commission of SA (Itac) initiated investigations, but did not verify some information, and reduced the period for comment from four weeks to three, Amie claimed.

Itac said it had to move fast, because the industry was in distress.

Amie disputed this, and said it was mostly doing well. It blamed any problems on the local industry's business model, which had focused on creating a market for cheap bags of frozen chicken pieces made heavier with brine.

Imports, at up to 12% of local consumption a year, were not the problem, it said.

"We are not a threat to local industry, and we are hardly an import-dominant industry," Amie CEO David Wolpert said.

If importers were to pay higher duties, this would make prices higher for consumers, whose only source of protein, in many cases, was chicken.

The application would be filed against the SAPA and Itac's chief commissioner on 18 June, for access to apparently confidential information the SAPA had supplied to Itac.

"We believe [the information] is flawed, and we want a chance to interrogate it properly," Southey said.

The high court would determine whether the information was confidential. Also, on 11 June Amie would make a presentation at Itac's headquarters in Pretoria.

The commission had monthly reviews on tariff-related matters, and Amie would discuss jobs, socio-economic factors, and brining.

Brining involves injecting salty water into parts of a chicken, mostly the breasts.

Amie said hollow steel rods were used to inject the brine into the chicken to make it more succulent, but it claimed this process reduced the nutritional value of the protein and made customers pay for frozen water.

He said that for every two kilogram bag of chicken sold, 600 grams was water, so customers were getting 1.4kg of chicken.

"We believe the local industry is selling expensive water, not cheap chicken," Southey said.

No more than eight percent of a whole chicken's total weight is allowed to be water, according to the agriculture department's poultry meat regulations.

The current injection levels declared on some chicken bags were between 26% and 30,% which was excessive, Amie said.

Amie was also concerned about the 15 000 jobs in the chicken import industry which were currently held by people who cut, repackaged and distributed the imported chicken. Jobs could be lost if import duties rose, it said.

Read more on:    itac  |  amie

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