The US HAS defended its controversial stance on chicken exports to the beleaguered domestic poultry industry, saying chicken consumption exceeded production in South Africa.
US Poultry and Egg Export Council president, Jim Sumner, said yesterday that while chicken production increased yearly in the country, consumption ballooned faster than production and this led to increased imports.
As part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides duty-free market access to the US for qualifying African states, including South Africa, the US exported 65000 tons of chicken a year to our shores.
Local poultry producers, however, have criticised the “dumping” of cheap chicken imports from the US, Brazil and the EU, arguing that they were forced to lay off staff and/or close shop.
In an exclusive interview with Business Report, Sumner rallied behind the US, saying their poultry industry “doesn’t dump products in South Africa or anywhere else”.
He characterised the global superpower, led by President Donald Trump, as a “small player” regarding its chicken exports, saying: “We can’t come close to filling a void created by avian influenza (AI) in South Africa if it were to get worse.” When asked what his impressions of the domestic poultry industry were, Sumner said that little had changed.
“The drought has made the feed supply more expensive and difficult to find. One of the concerns we have is that the South African government has high import duties for grain.
"We are surprised that the local associations have not asked the government for exemption. Consumers in South Africa want chicken, the domestic industry is unavailable to provide it. There need to be other options available such as imports. It’s important to feed hungry people as much as it is important to safeguard jobs.” In January, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe called on the government to buy poultry farms that were being closed as a result of chicken imports.
In a bid to stay afloat, struggling poultry producer RCL Foods was forced to sell 15 of its 25 chicken farms located in Hammersdale outside Durban. Sumner was among the US AI experts who met senior government officials from nine African states during a seminar on the prevention and control of AI outbreaks held in Tshwane last week.
“AI can affect any country at any time. The more countries working together to share knowledge and learn from each other, the better prepared we will all be to control current and future outbreaks,” he said. “Our goals are the same: to control AI, ensure animal and human safety, and protect the industry and food security.”
He claimed that they had successfully eradicated the highly pathogenic bird flu in the US. “We shared with them some of our experiences in dealing with AI.” Last week, the Eastern Cape became the sixth and latest province to confirm the presence of bird flu. The H5N8 bird flu strain emerged in the country in June and has already been identified in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and North West.
Sovereign Foods, the country’s fourth-largest poultry producer, had said it culled approximately 5000 chickens after AI was detected in their farm in Uitenhage. The JSE-listed company said it was taking appropriate steps to prevent the outbreak from spreading to other farms.
US Department of Agriculture senior staff veterinarian, Dr Fidelis Hegngi, said: “One of the most important lessons we have learned in the US is that it is crucial to move quickly. The goal to aim for is depopulation of infected birds within 24 hours. The longer we wait, the more the virus replicates and the more extensively the environment is contaminated.”
He said with inadequate lab capacity, AI would take longer to detect and confirm.
- BUSINESS REPORT