Chicken Industry

Some puzzling aspects to chicken imports

The need for more thorough customs inspections of chicken imports is demonstrated by the fact that every month the official statistics from the SA Revenue Service throw up puzzles and anomalies.

The latest statistics, for July 2021, show that imports of frozen chicken feet have nearly trebled in the past year, from R20.4 million in July 2020 to R55.3 million in July this year.

Over the same period, imports of leg quarters have been reasonably constant, rising slightly from R105.4 million in July last year to R116.9 million in 2021.

And there’s an additional puzzle. Those R55 million worth of chicken feet were imported at an average free-on-board (FOB) price of R14.59/kg, while the more popular leg quarters, which retail for far more than feet, were imported at an average of R14.23/kg.

Granted that chicken feet are classified as offal and are subject to a 30% tariff, while leg quarters attract the bone-in tariffs of 62%. Still, given far higher retail prices, you can presumably make more money importing leg quarters for less than you would pay to import chicken feet.

Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association (SAPA) believes the customs authorities should investigate and seek further details about these consignments.

“The poultry master plan aims to address issues such as mis-declaring or under-declaring chicken imports in order to reduce or avoid import tariffs. Has that happened here? Until SARS investigates one can only speculate but the figures indicate that SARS should be on the lookout, now and in regard to future imports.

“The problem is that these consignments have already been distributed and consumed. We must address this issue,” Breitenbach told FairPlay.

South Africans are getting through a huge amount of imported chicken feet – R41 million in May, R50 million in June and then R55 million in July. It was the third-largest import category after leg quarters at R116 million, and mechanically deboned meat (MDM) at R104 million.  And it all comes in at lower tariffs than bone-in portions such as leg quarters, thighs, drumsticks and wings. 

300 chicken containers rushed through SA ports

Then there’s the other aspect to port inspections – compliance with health and safety regulations.

When rioting halted imports through Durban at the end of July, and damaged cold storage and meat inspection facilities, chicken importers appealed for emergency measures to get containers of frozen chicken into the country.

Now Paul Matthew, CEO of the meat importing and exporting association AMIE, has revealed that 300 containers of frozen chicken were diverted to Gauteng, with others going to Cape Town.

Unfortunately, he did not say whether the rush also meant a relaxation of health and customs inspections before the containers were unloaded and their contents distributed. The poultry sector master plan envisages stricter controls at ports of entry to ensure food safety and that proper import duties are paid.