Who is getting fat on cheap US chicken imports?

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Kevin Lovell is the chief executive officer of the South African Poultry Association,
Kevin Lovell is the chief executive officer of the South African Poultry Association,

THE South African Poultry Association responds to comments made by Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) during an interview with Fin24.

It is important to note the following facts that directly contradict some of the views expressed.
 
The SA market was never closed to US imports. There was an anti-dumping duty imposed on US chicken bone-in portions, essentially the chicken waste US consumers don't eat. This anti-dumping duty was never challenged on its merits in the courts nor at the World Trade Organisation. Sumner's comment that "we get more for breast meat in the US so we can charge less for leg meat" leads to imports landing here at prices far below the cost of production for the local industry.

The threat to our existing producers, whether large or small is clearly quantifiable, as is the loss of jobs for local employees and the businesses of emerging farmers. For every 10 000 tons of imports, 1 000 job opportunities are lost.
 
The 65 000 ton annual quota agreed to by SA poultry producers was what Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies termed a "patriotic sacrifice" as it was not in our interests and the legality of anti-dumping duties was never in question. Any imports over this quota are still subject to that duty. That the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) renewal was held hostage to facilitate access for anti-dumping duty-free imports via the back door speaks for itself; rather than celebrate, Mr Sumner should be ashamed.
 
The claim that the US has the "highest food safety standards in the world" and that testing ensures there is "never a chance that any kind of disease could get into the food chain" is simply not true. The US centre for Disease Control estimates that around 1.2 million illnesses and around 450 deaths occur each year in the USA caused by Salmonella.

In 2015, there were a number of outbreaks including Salmonella enteritidis infections linked to raw, frozen, stuffed chicken products produced by Aspen Foods; drug-resistant Salmonella enteritidis infections linked to raw, frozen, stuffed chicken products produced by Barber Foods; and human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry.
 
The fact is that Agoa brinkmanship brought pressure to bear on local health authorities to lower testing standards applied to these US imports - standards different to those applied to all other imported and local products. If the US thought their standards are the "highest in the world" and equal to ours, why would they have fought to have them changed and hold Agoa hostage because of it? All is not as healthy as they would like us to believe.
 
We do welcome the expressed intention of the USAPEEC to work with historically disadvantaged individuals and trust that this will lead to genuine opportunities for emerging black importers in what is currently a completely white-owned and dominated economic sector.

We will monitor progress in this regard to avoid fronting by a connected elite to the exclusion of genuine broad-based black economic empowerment and look forward working with USAPEEC to achieve this goal.

USAPEEC and the US government had also committed to assisting in the development of black poultry farmers in South Africa and we hope that these promises will be kept and the transformation of the productive poultry industry assisted.
 
Lastly, the picture accompanying the story shows some rather tasty-looking fresh chicken on ice. The reality is very different. The below picture shows firstly exactly how the chicken arrived in South Africa in its blue plastic bags and the second image shows exactly how it is sold to the unsuspecting consumer.

The price of R31.99 per kilogram goes to show that what is claimed to be low-cost is clearly not that cheap for the consumer. Someone is getting fat on cheap imports, and it isn't your average, hard-pressed South African consumer struggling to put decent food on the table.
 
* Kevin Lovell is the chief executive officer of the South African Poultry Association.

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