In the best tradition of propaganda disseminators, David Wolpert (“Put chicken imports into perspective,” Business Report, February 18) follows the line that if you repeat the same lie often enough, people will believe it. Allow me then to correct this distorted picture with some solid facts
The South African poultry industry, and more specifically the broiler industry, is losing millions of rand monthly due to high feed costs, increasingly expensive electricity charges and other inputs. While the poultry industry has experienced cyclical losses in the past, these are now being experienced over an unprecedented period.
Using SA Revenue Service 2012 figures, all poultry imports represent 21.2 percent of consumption: certainly not 10 percent as misrepresented, with poultry imports increasing last year by 15.4 percent. Broiler imports, excluding mechanically deboned meat, increased by 18 percent.
Expressing imports as a percentage disingenuously misrepresents its true scale, where a seemingly innocuous 10 percent, let alone 20 percent, translates into hundreds of thousands of tons. Imports have not declined, they have increased, and to say otherwise is a blatant lie and hugely harmful to the industry. In fact 404 000 tons of poultry meat and products came into the country last year. By any definition that is a lot of food.
With most leg quarters now imported from the EU, much of that is brined. The business model of the importers to thaw, inject and refreeze, as opposed to injecting fresh chicken and then freezing, has also become more predominant in recent times, with importers even trying to claim that rules dealing with brining do not apply to them and try to classify the product differently.
Notwithstanding the fact that our poultry industry is ranked among the most efficient in the world, it is impossible to compete with the economies of scale of the world’s richest economies, bi-annual grain and soya crops, government subsidies and other advantages enjoyed by foreign poultry producers who export to South Africa.
While Wolpert will indeed grow wealthier once the local poultry industry closes its doors, as happened in west Africa, is this really in the best interests of our country and its people? A case in point is the local textile, rubber, shoe and glass industries. And once the poultry industry is no more, will those cheap imports still be so low?
By implementing higher tariffs, we can protect the 50 000 direct jobs in the poultry industry and the 70 000 indirect jobs that are at risk, as large commercial poultry producers have already shed 3 000 jobs, with more on the line.
Our neighbouring countries, including Namibia and Zimbabwe, understand the importance of protecting their local poultry industry and we are pleased that Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and his department do too.
Wolpert’s offer to assist in growing the export market for local producers is welcomed, and we urge him to place as much emphasis on exports as he does on imports. It will be better for the industry, for our country’s balance of payments, better for jobs and better for the tax revenues he seems so concerned about.
chief executive, SA Poultry ASSOCIATION