The price of poultry

For the first time in 15 years American chicken is being sold in South Africa. In June last year South Africa agreed to the tariff free import of 65 million kilograms of American chicken annually for the next nine years, ending a long standing dispute. It was a condition of inclusion in the new African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that chicken, pork and beef from the USA be welcomed in this country.

According to Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative, 12 freight containers, each with 24 494 kg’s of chicken, has already arrived and been distributed in South Africa. Frozen drumsticks from Tyson Foods and House of Raeford Farms in North Carolina are sold under the trademark Jwayelani at the local supermarket group’s 21 outlets in and around Durban. American chicken producers prefer chicken breast meat and wings and regard the leg quarter, i.e. the thigh and the drum, as by-products and are exporting these pieces to South Africa at reduced prices. For many South African chicken farmers this means a possible threat to their livelihoods and those of their employees as they struggle to produce chicken at competitive and still at profitable prices.

SA Revenue Service reports that total poultry imports for 2015 amounted to 478 447t; an increase of 85 145t, or 21.6%, in comparison with 2014.The country also recorded a record level of poultry imports in July 2015 at 48,357 tons for the month. This equates to the equivalent of about 8.6 million birds per week. “To place this in perspective, Astral in its financial year 2015 processed on average 5 million birds per week. The local industry produces and processes about 19,5 million birds per week,” said Gary Arnold, director of business development at Astral Foods, “It is estimated that we lose a thousand jobs for every 10 000 tons of poultry imported.”

The poultry industry employs more than 120,000 people through both direct and indirect jobs and the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) has estimated that another 18,000 jobs could be created if poultry meat imports were stopped. In 2014, a SAPA senior executive said that seven major commercial producers have been liquidated; others are in business rescue proceedings and more than 1,000 jobs were lost that year, with major local producers losing millions of rands every week due to imports. The South African Poultry CEO Kevin Lovell told Fin24 in April this year that the threat to existing producers, is clearly quantifiable, as is the loss of jobs for local employees and the businesses of emerging farmers.

South African consumers are fortunate to have great quality local chicken suppliers and a range of free-range chicken products to choose from. Woolworths were the first SA retailer to stock organic various fruit and vegetable ranges and soon after they introduced a range of organic dairy products. The first free-range broiler (meat) chickens became available in supermarkets in 2004 and in 2007. Woolworths confirms their strong commitment to locally produced quality products. One success story of this partnership is with local Elgin farmer, Jeanne Groenewald. Starting as a backyard business, Jeanne’s passion and commitment to animal welfare and quality natural process’s has enabled her business, Elgin Free Range Chickens, to become the largest independent free range chicken farm in South Africa.

The simple message is to buy local. Not only are you supporting local economy and enabling job creation but you are also ensuring by choosing the right suppliers and products, fresher and healthier eating. It is important to check whether your retailer has an authentication programme in place and whether their products are free of routine antibiotics and hormones.

Sources: Health24; CIWF; MayoClinic; FreeRangeChickens; Woolworths; HealthCastle; Animal Voice; The Daily Green; SA Poultry; BBC; The Poultry Site

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