Picture: THE HERALD
Picture: THE HERALD

The government is seeking to establish new export markets for the local poultry industry in a bid to save it from collapse.

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

The industry and unions say 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 SA.

The state has established a task team to tackle the crisis.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said his department had sent market-access requests to the EU, the Gulf countries and Angola, Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda. Requests had also gone to Hong Kong and Singapore in South Asia.

Zokwana told Parliament on Monday that the requests for market access were already yielding results as Qatar had responded positively. Kuwait had agreed to the importation of processed poultry products from SA, and negotiations were being held for a health certificate. The export of fresh poultry meat to Kuwait is still being pursued by the department, said the agriculture minister.

SA was negotiating the requirements for veterinary health certificates with Angola, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Oman lifted a ban on the importation of South African poultry meat. The department has been in negotiations with Saudi Arabia about a number of issues related to the export of poultry meat.

Zokwana said challenges related to export-market access and expansion of the South African chicken premium portions was due mainly to the production systems implemented in the local industry.

The local system allowed for the use of growth stimulants in the production of poultry, a practice which had been banned in a number of countries as well as the EU, based on fears over the health of people.

"In response, SA is working on a split system for the production of poultry, which means that there will be separate production systems in the country, one which produces poultry without the usage of growth stimulants and the other system which may or may not use stimulants," said Zokwana.

A system would have to be introduced to guarantee that the farms from which the meat was obtained did not use growth stimulants prohibited in the EU.

Among the reasons for the extreme distress in the industry were the high costs of production, especially feed at about 70% of input costs, and rising electricity prices, Zokwana said.

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