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SA's chicken producers in battle of the brine

19 June 2016 - 02:02 By NOMPUMELELO MAGWAZA

The South African Poultry Association is seeking an interdict to halt the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from implementing a regulation that will compel the industry to cut the amount of brine in frozen chicken pieces.The salt-water solution is used to preserve food and add flavouring or succulence, among other things. Brining became popular in the '90s to meet increased demand from consumers for frozen chicken.Producers use different brining proportions, but the general level among South African producers is about 30%.The new regulations will require the industry to halve the maximum for individually quick-frozen portions to 15%. The maximum allowable for a whole chicken will be set at 10%.story_article_left1The poultry association, which represents a majority of poultry producers in the country, said it wanted the regulation - set to come into effect on October 22 - to be reviewed and set aside.The department said its intention was to prevent deceptive practices relating to the labelling of poultry products and to protect consumers by ensuring the quality of poultry meat was maintained.It said it had already filed a notice opposing the application.The industry said it supported the limiting of brine levels, but only to 25% for quick-frozen portions and 10% for whole birds.The benefits of brining chicken for the consumer, said the association, was that it allowed consumers to purchase high-quality protein at a lower price. Brining, it said, "has allowed the industry to reduce overhead costs and production costs, directly translating into significant savings for consumers".The association said the new regulation would have a significant negative effect on the financial viability of many poultry producers and would probably ruin some of them.Food producers such as Astral and RCL Foods are under pressure because of the drought and the slowing domestic economy.Over the past year, Astral has been just under 30% weaker and RCL's shares have shed close to 20%, compared to a JSE All Share that has gained more than 0.8%. The local industry can sell [individually quick-frozen portions] at current prices. The consumer would not lose any chicken meat but would receive less water The regulation would need the industry to produce more chicken to generate the same output of frozen products on the market, the association said. "Most producers are currently operating their [individually quick-frozen] processing plants at close to full capacity, and cannot accommodate an increase in the supply of live birds in the short run," the association says in its affidavit.Producers' profits will be significantly reduced as total costs do not decline in line with the decrease in total output and there are fundamental flaws that render the enforcement of the regulation impossible, it says.The association's CEO, Kevin Lovell, said there was no correct technique to measure the amount of brine, nor was there a permanent monitoring system to ensure the industry complied.story_article_right2Theo Delport, Astral's poultry division MD, said his company believed the regulation was flawed and would negatively affect the industry and consumers. Delport said Astral would face higher overhead costs should the regulation be implemented."Remember, the industry is already struggling with input costs as well as the influx of imports ... this will definitely further cripple the industry."The importation of bone-in chicken portions from the US and the EU has rattled local poultry players.Meanwhile, the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters said the notion that the brining regulation would be costly for local producers was "blatant nonsense".CEO David Wolpert said that unlike locally produced individually quick-frozen portions , imported chicken had no brine ."The local industry can sell [individually quick-frozen portions] at current prices. The consumer would not lose any chicken meat but would receive less water," said Wolpert.He added that importers assert that excessively-brined South African chicken should be discredited and that efforts to maintain high brining levels were exploitative and a travesty.magwazam@sundaytimes.co.za..

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