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Chicken imports are rising again

There has been a steady increase this year in imports of bone-in chicken into South Africa. This is the most notable – and the most worrying – component of a steady rise in overall poultry imports in 2021.

It’s worrying for the local poultry industry, because it is dumped imports of bone-in chicken (leg quarters, thighs, wings, and other cuts) that have harmed and held back poultry producers and cost thousands of jobs.

The rise in bone-in imports is one feature of the 2021 first quarter import statistics, compiled from Stats SA import figures. Another is the shift to imports from North and South America as bird flu outbreaks across Europe have severely curtailed European Union exports.

After months of decline, mainly because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on markets, poultry – and particularly chicken – imports are rising again. Although broiler imports for the first three months of 2021 are below those of the previous two years, the statistics now point sharply upwards. Whether this is going to be the trend for the year remains to be seen.

Imports of bone-in chicken have nearly doubled each month this year – that’s a steep increase, even from a very low base.


Starting at 5 812 tonnes in January, they had reached 20 399 tonnes by March. There’s also been a significant change in the broiler import mix, with bone-in chicken exceeding imports of mechanically deboned meat (MDM) for the first time.

In January, MDM made up 57.5% of broiler imports, with bone-in portions down at 20.3%. By March, bone-in portions had risen to 44.3%, with MDM reduced to 36.5%.

Again, whether that’s a blip or a trend will become clear in the months to come. There’s a lot of money at stake – poultry imports for March alone came to R526 million, and totalled R5.14 billion last year.

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