Inside Labour: Freedom from hunger matters most

The other day, in the local supermarket, I noticed chicken breasts at half the usual price.

But there was no origin on the label, so I asked the butcher where the pack came from.

“Did it all ourselves, right here,” he said.

Only later did it strike me that the butcher had said the packaged chicken had all been done “right here”. I checked the following day.

He had meant the packaging and pricing.

And, by then, the cut-price poultry display featured the various packaged cuts, including “braai packs”, with origin clearly labelled: Brazil, Germany, etc.

How is it, I wondered, that “previously frozen” chicken, raised and slaughtered in Germany, could sell at R34.99/kg as against R49.99/kg for the local variety?

Does Germany not have a higher wage structure than South Africa has?

And are the producer costs not in euros?

What about the shipping and freezing costs and the carbon footprint this entails?

Quite simply, the situation does not make sense, especially when the known cost structure of South African poultry is taken into account.

It seems mind-boggling to realise that, last year, South Africa imported 165 000 tons of chicken from the EU alone.

Add to that the quota of 65 000 tons a year of duty-free poultry that is allowed to be exported from the US.

Yet we pay in devalued rands, and they sell in euros and dollars.

How many jobs, right through the supply line as well as in maintenance and support services, did these imports amount to?

And how many jobs have already been lost locally as a result of these imports?

No wonder domestic producers are concerned. Trade unions should be too.

But the importers and retailers claim they are doing us all a favour, encouraging competition and helping consumers by lowering prices.

This is both hypocritical and short-sighted: the competition is unfair and will result in fewer local jobs, thus fewer pay packets and, ultimately, less consumer demand.

Here, again, is an example of how so many businesses look only to gaining the maximum profit in the shortest possible time.

A blind spot apparently exists when it comes to workers and job losses — and to the long-term consequences, even for business.

Another factor to bear in mind is that according to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, more than 60% of the meat consumed in South Africa between 2012 and 2014 was poultry.

The bureau also noted that countries that produce feed, such as maize, generally tend to have an advantage in the marketplace.

And, until the recent drought struck — for which there was considerable forewarning — South Africa exported millions of tons of maize annually.

Here producers can find common ground with trade unions because this influx of cheap poultry means crippling the local industry with the loss of still more jobs.

This at a time when the latest youth unemployment statistics last week revealed the most appalling waste of human potential.

With Freedom Day having been celebrated on Wednesday, and Workers’ Day today, we should think about the millions of people without jobs who can provide little or no food for the family table.

And we should realise that freedom is largely meaningless without freedom from hunger.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa says government has set the target of ensuring that at least 40% of goods and services procured by public entities are sourced from women-owned businesses.
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