Under its preferential trade programme on agricultural goods under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), American poultry should be allowed into South Africa by 15 March 2016. Is the deal a good or bad for SA farmers?
For many South African chicken farmers, the American poultry arriving in South Africa from the United States is a threat to their livelihoods and those of their employees.
According to Geoffrey Anderson, the CEO of Mikon farming, a local medium sized poultry company, American farmers will be benefiting from the deal, because the American poultry is by-products to dump at a profit.
Anderson says about 16 million kilograms of American chicken arrived in South Africa last week as part of the Agoa deal. This is only a portion of the 65 million kilogram expected annually for the next nine years. 65 million kilogram of chicken they can do without, Anderson explained.
He says American poultry farmers make most of their money from selling “premium” chicken parts in their country; what they sell to South Africa is just “by-products” so they can dump at a profit.
“They have already made their premiums from breast meat and wings. They have a huge market in America for breast meat and wings. They use it for burgers, chicken nuggets, schnitzels and buffalo wings,” says Anderson. He says in the American chicken industry, the leg quarter, which is the thigh and the drum, are considered to be by-products.
“So they are transporting them to South Africa at below cost prices. They don't have a market for it - so they dump it here. Basically they are dumping, that's what it is,” Anderson explained.
He says continued rising costs in producing chickens and increased international competition, make it difficult for local farmers to produce high quality products at profitable prices or even stay in business.
They don't have a market for it so they dump it here. Basically they are dumping, that's what it is.”
South African chicken farmers pay double what American farmers are paying for their chicken products and make about three times what they do for their products, he defended. This means they are not able to compete with their American counterparts.
In fact, some South African farmers are already moving towards buying chicken from international markets, re-injecting it and reselling it to South Africans. This would be cheaper for them than producing the poultry themselves. This however, would not only mean the closure of many businesses that act as support for poultry farmers but low quality chicken for South Africans.
But it is not only local farmers who will be at the receiving end of the deal.
Already by the time it reaches your supermarket, the chicken from America will be at least six week older than locally produced chicken.
“The shipping will take about six weeks to arrive here, immediately you have a product that is two months older,” says Anderson.
That means South Africans could in March, be eating chickens killed in January. Eating chickens killed months prior is only the beginning. That is only the beginning.
US chickens contain arsenic
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States admitted that over 70% of their chickens contain cancer causing arsenic. The department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says it is aware of this study that was done in 2011 by the FDA.
“The source of the chemical was determined to be feed that contained medication which are used to promote the health of the birds and also promote growth. The arsenic was found mainly in the livers of the chicken, and very few in the actual poultry muscle/meat tested positive for Arsenic,” says the department.
The department also says there has been a systematic withdrawal of the drug from the US market, and such withdrawal is expected to be completed in 2016 and that South Africa performs a range of random tests on food borne pathogens on every consignment arriving at the Port of Entry regardless of the country of origin (USA included).
“These tests are currently being expanded to all potential hazards in meat including chemicals.”
July Mahlangu, a research technician at the Agricultural Research Council, says feed given to locally produced poultry does not have cancer causing ingredients.
Mahlangu explains how chickens are produced:
The presence of American chickens in the South African market may also force South Africans to increase brine percentages in their chicken just to make ends meet says Anderson.
Brine injection into chickens was introduced in South Africa more than ten years ago to make the chicken a bit more “tender and juicy,” Anderson says. The brine not only makes the chicken soft, it also adds weight. To achieve tenderness, chicken may be given a 5 to 15% brine injection. SABC Digital News visited some popular supermarkets and many of their chicken products had brine levels of up to 30%.
Some producers have brine injections of up to 50%. That means a customer is only receiving 50% of what they are paying for, the rest is just water mixed with salt and some sugar.
The department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says though the current prescribed brine level for whole chicken is 8%, there is no prescribed limit for brine injection for individual quick frozen (IQF) portion.
High levels of brine could pose health risks to some consumers, particularly those suffering from ailments like, high blood pressure.
“There are a lot of people who are not allowed to have salt in their diet but already it's been injected into the meat,” says Anderson.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is considering the regulation of brine injection levels on IQF.