packed chickens in a supermarket .photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

Johannesburg - The proposed new maximum brine levels in chicken portions seemed to have a number of unintentional errors and possible consequences that could negatively affect consumers, the SA Poultry Association said yesterday.

The poultry industry has been given until next year to adjust brine levels to a maximum of 15 percent in individually quick frozen (IQF) chicken portions under plans tabled by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to amend the regulation.

Poultry producers are currently using brine levels of up to 30 percent in IQF portions.

Kevin Lovell, the chief executive of the association, said the industry was united behind the position that brining regulations must be comprehensive and technically correct.

There were fears that poultry producers had invested sizable amounts of money in their brining machines and with the reduction of allowable brine levels, machines would not be used to their optimum levels.

Lovell agreed with this notion, saying producers had invested in these operational facilities 10 years ago when IQF portions became dominant products in the market.

“There was more investment and plants were upgraded and made to work at optimum levels,” he said.

The regulation, Lovell added, would make the design of current factories or abattoirs inefficient because they were not optimised to the 15 percent brining levels.

This would be a forced change to producers’ processing systems and would require additional capital costs to modify the plants.

“Unfortunately, we fear that the brining regulations as proposed by the department are neither sufficiently comprehensive nor technically correct. We want to work with the department in a spirit of mutual co-operation to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said although the industry supported the new regulation in principle, it was concerned that the proposal to reduce brining had not fully contextualised the possible economic effects for both the industry and consumers.

“It is a quirk of retail pricing that brined chicken is actually priced way below that of fresh. When the brine is removed and the remaining chicken is weighed, kilogram-for-kilogram, it works out much less in rand terms than the fresh equivalent.”

Poultry association member Astral Foods, which generates 56 percent of its poultry division’s sales from IQF portions, agreed that there were technical flaws in the proposed regulation which should be taken up with the department.

Astral experienced tough trading conditions last year, when it was affected by higher feed input costs and lower selling prices as it competed against a rising level of chicken imports.

However, the company said a reasonable degree of certainty existed that headline earnings a share for the six months to March would be at least 20 percent higher than a year ago.

Lovell said people failed to realise that brining worked in consumers’ favour.

But David Wolpert, the chief executive of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of SA said the practice had resulted in consumers being exploited and abused. - Business Report