Pretoria - Regulations capping the brining of chicken at 15% will step in on October 22, after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on Wednesday turned down an application to overturn or suspend these regulations.
The South African Poultry Association (SAPA) turned to court as it questioned on what scientific basis the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries decided that frozen chicken could only be injected with up to 15% brine.
SAPA did not dispute the fact that the brining of chicken had to be regulated, but it disputed the percentage of capping and the steps followed by the department in implementing the regulations.
In February 2011, the department issued a notice referring to the abuse by a certain producer by injecting excessive quantities of brine into chicken. In some instances it ranged from 30 to 60% in individual quick frozen portions.
The department regarded the abuse as a threat to consumer safety and asked the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) to conduct a research into brine injection of chicken meat. Interim results indicated an excessive loss during defrosting and cooking. It was also found that brine injection resulted in elevated salt levels that could cause a risk to consumers.
New regulations were promulgated in April this year, stating that brining of only up to 15% will be allowed from October 22 – thus giving chicken producers six months to get their house in order.
It was argued on behalf of SAPA that the minister should have accepted the 25% cap proposal which was contained in certain of the scientific reports presented to the department. Other reports suggested a far lower cap.
Judge Hans Fabricius said there is no duty on the minister to impose the optimal brining level – if such even exists. SAPA argued that the minister should have found a capping range of between 20 and 25%, but the judge said he disagreed. He said the minister was at liberty to make regulations which, in his opinion, may be necessary to protect the consumer.
“The minister was lawfully entitled to have stipulated the 15% limit as a compromise after having considered the views of at least 20 stakeholders,” the judge said.
It was argued on behalf of the National Consumer Union that no brine should be added to chicken at all. The Heart Stroke Foundation expressed concerns about the salt content in brine, while the Red Meat Producers organisation suggested that the 10% cap brine injection for meat should be standardised across all regulations.
Rainbow Chicken supported a cap of 20%.
Judge Fabricius said the minister considered all these proposals at the time before he exercised his own, well-informed discretion, which he had a right to.
In turning down the application, he said the applicant did not make out a clear case to have the provisions overturned.