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Importers hit back after salmonella recall sparks local call for a ban on Brazilian chicken

FEATHERS are flying between South African poultry producers and importers following an outbreak of salmonella that led to the recall of almost 500 tonnes of Brazilian chicken globally. The $A Poultry Association last week called for a ban on chicken imports from Brazil, a major exporter of poultry to South Africa, which accounted for 348 155 tonnes, or 60,5%, of the country’s poultry imports in 2018.

This comes after the European Union and Saudi Arabia placed a ban on Brazilian imports from at least 20 producers health, the issue turned the spotlight onto the ongoing battle between local chicken farmers and importers, who allege that the call for a ban is a ploy to draw attention to imports, because producers recently applied to the International Trade Administration Commission to hike import duty to 82% on U.S. and Brazilian poultry, which could raise prices for consumers.

The current tariff is 37%and 12%for bone-in frozen chicken portions and boneless frozen portions respectively. SAPA’s broiler organisation general manager Izaak Breitenbach said Brazil did not have a good track record regarding meat production, given the rotten meat scandal that led to the arrest of 30 people in that country and a ban in 2017.

He said the ban was necessary to protect consumers from possibly contaminated poultry entering the country. However, Association of Meat Importers and Exporters CEO Paul Matthew said SAPA was”conveniently” using the incident to turn attention to imports in support of its tariff application. But what’s interesting from a consumer perspective is whether higher import duties will even make a difference to the amount we pay at the till, since it seems that, imported or not, the price of chicken products remains relatively high considering the cost price. “Local production can meet market demand but it is all determined by price,” Breitenbach said.

Breitenbach said chicken leg quarter imports were purchased below cost of production for as little as R13 per kilo. The industry shed hundreds of jobs in recent years, allegedly due to the flood of cheap imports, and has repeatedly called on the government to curb imports. But for consumers, despite cheap imports, prices have continued to rise.

According to the Nationa Agricultural Marketing Council’s latest Food Basket Price Monthly report for February the average price of independently quick frozen (IQF) chicken portions increased 30,3% to R42,99 per kilogram in January 2019 and fresh chicken rose 2,8% to R60,43 per kilogram in the same month compared to January 2018. Granted, non-IQF frozen frozen chicken portions dropped in price by 44% to R47,28 and 2kg packs of IQF chicken decreased 74%to R63,87 in the same period.

While it remains to be seen whether DAFF will heed the call to ban Brazilian imports, it’s comforting to know that according to Breitenbach, DAFF’s port health inspectors have been vigilant in testing chicken in containers and sending any contaminated products back to the country of origin. But he said he was concerned that it was not physically possible to test the contents of every container.

SA National Consumer Union vice chairman Clif Johnston said the organisation had not received any complaints “in a very long time regarding food poisoning involving chicken products”. He said salmonella is neutralised through cooking and the bacteria therefore poses little or no risk to consumers provided basic hygiene is observed.

“It should be kept either refrigerated or frozen, as purchased, until ready for use.

When shopping, purchase these products last and get them home into refrigeration as soon as possible. Don’t allow raw meat or its fluids to contaminate the cooked product – keep them separate,” Johnston said. “Ensure that chicken is cooked through – the cooked flesh should not be pink or bloody. Use commonsense regarding Best Before (BB) dates – if it looks good and smells good then it is probably okay, even if a little over the BB date.”

Johnston added that the biggest danger with all meat products was what happens after cooking. “If leftovers are not chilled soon afterwards, and then reheated, there is a risk of food poisoning. However, this has nothing to do with salmonella in the raw product,” he said.

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