US chicken

US poultry lands in SA but where to buy it is still a mystery

US chicken has landed on South African shores after a 15-year absence, but mystery surrounds which retailers will stock it.

An estimated 16-million kg of American poultry arrived in the country last month as part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) agreement, through which the country will have to import 65K tonnes of US bone-in chicken a year without imposing an antidumping duty.

SA Poultry Association CEO, Kevin Lovell, said little was known about which retailers would stock the chicken.

Pick n Pay said its fresh chicken was produced locally. “None is imported from the US. If we did, it would be labelled as such.”

Shoprite confirmed that its supermarkets in the Western Cape would receive a small quantity of pre-packaged frozen chicken leg quarters imported from the US in six weeks.

“This consignment represents less than 1% of the supermarket group’s frozen chicken sales. Imported products are clearly labelled with the country of origin so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions.”

Lovell said that the imports had not yet had a significant effect on the local industry: “There is distress in the local industry, but the level of US imports to date cannot be seen as the main cause of the distress. As more US chicken does arrive we will be able to more effectively link imports with local industry harm,” he said.

Data from SARS show that poultry imports totalled 38.736 tonnes in January, with Brazil being the dominant exporter at 49.3%. The EU accounted for 43.7% of total poultry imports. The US, as of January, accounted for a paltry 0.6% of total imports.

But there has been concern about whether or not the US chicken is safe for consumption despite Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s assurances that it is.

When the agreement was finalised in January, Motsoaledi noted that a risk-based sampling plan would be implemented and that SA would sample and test all consignments for compliance.

He said fears about US chicken exclusively carrying salmonella were misplaced as all chicken have the bacteria, adding that there was no chicken in the world that is 100% without salmonella.

SA imports from over 3 000 establishments across the world, and testing requirements apply to all these establishments.

Motsoaledi also said that the DoH would ensure that the risk of transmission of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) to SA poultry is managed.

US embassy spokeswoman Cynthia Harvey said the poultry was safe and pointed to 138 other countries accepting American exports.