Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Local poultry industry players are hopeful that Parliament’s public hearings into the crisis in the sector will confirm, once and for all, that dumping is causing the chicken industry a lot of harm.

Parliament will hold public hearings on Thursday amid calls by the sector to restrict chicken imports from the EU and other regions. This as the Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday that it had suspended imports of meat from establishments suspected of being involved in the Brazil meat scandal. Allegations are that corrupt Brazilian producers have been selling rotten meat around the world for years.

The local poultry sector has shed hundreds of jobs in recent months and blames this on cheap chicken imports.

The industry and unions argue that the EU is selling chicken legs, thighs and wings below cost and have called on the government to intervene.

But the EU has said its farmers are simply more competitive than their counterparts in South Africa.

Kevin Lovell, the CEO of the South African Poultry Association (Sapa), said on Wednesday: "We hope the hearing will put to rest, once and for all, the myth that we are not competitive producers, and that it will confirm that dumping is the problem causing the chicken industry such harm."

He said the association also hopes the hearings will lead to action from the Department of Agriculture and other government departments that will actually stem the flood of dumped imports.

The Departments of Agriculture and Trade and Industry, and various other stakeholders will make submissions during Thursday’s hearings.

Francois Baird, the founder of the Fair Play Movement said: "Our hope is firstly that the hearing will prompt an investigation to unmask those importers who are flooding the South African market with dumped chicken, and punish them appropriately; and secondly that the hearing will lead to the urgent implementation of concrete steps to stop chicken dumping, as well as a long-term strategy to put a stop to all dumping."

The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) said this week that blaming chicken imports for the woes of the local poultry industry was "laughable".

"Sapa has peddled the convenient line that imports are to blame for all their business woes," said AMIE CEO David Wolpert.

"That imports make up only 14% of chicken consumed in South Africa means this assertion is laughable. But food security is no laughing matter. Neither is people losing their jobs."

But the Fair Play Movement has argued that 14% is sufficient to bring about price suppression, "given the extraordinary power exerted by big retailers".

"It is time we turn our attention to retailers as not only the enablers of dumping but as the enforcers of the predators. They are not the champions of the consumers. They are making super profits at the expense of the workers, food security of poor people and the economy," the Fair Play Movement says.

The Department of Agriculture on Wednesday suspended imports of meat from establishments believed to be involved in the Brazil meat scandal. Some meat producers in Brazil were accused of bribing Brazilian inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.

Two of the biggest meat producers in Brazil, JBS and BRF, were implicated in the scandal.

Sapa figures show that poultry imports for last year totalled over 560,000 tons and Brazil was the main contributor accounting for about 42%.

The Department of Agriculture said it had requested the Brazilian authority to provide official information and a list of establishments that have been identified regarding the exportation of unsafe meat to various countries, which could include South Africa. The Department has also advised the Brazilian authority to ban all exportation of meat from such establishments until the issue has been resolved to the satisfaction of the South African Veterinary Authority.

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