The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of Southern Africa (AMIE) says that the government needs to take emergency action and treat the ongoing chicken and egg crisis as a crisis, or else consumers will continue to suffer the brunt of shortages in the country.
South Africa is in the midst of a significant chicken and egg shortage after a high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) strain decimated stocks.
According to the SA Poultry Association (SAPA), so far, 5 million birds have been culled this year, representing 20% of the country’s commercial layer flock.
Notably, 30% (2.5 million) of the national broiler breeder population have been culled. These are the parent birds that produce the genetic stock for the overall chicken population.
The AMIE said that the shortages have already filtered through to shelf prices, with wholesalers reporting a sharp increase in prices since the onset of the influenza outbreaks.
Some wholesalers have seen the price of whole birds and chicken hearts increase by 20%, chicken necks by 17% and chicken carcasses and bones by 25%. This is especially concerning as these products are most consumed by low-income households, the group said.
While the government has issued directives on temporary rebates on imports and appears to have mobilised to address the situation, the AMIE noted that this is not being seen on the ground – and now risks further delays from those opposed to the measures.
The group has recommended a reduction in import duties, for 12 months, on frozen bone-in chicken from 62% to 37%, boneless chicken from 42% to 12% and to zero-rate chicken offals (carcasses, feet, heads, and liver), which are the chicken products most consumed by low-income households and consumers.
However, it is concerned that this urgent process has already been delayed by parties opposing the rebate, who have asked for an extension to provide their submissions.
“The sooner that we start behaving like we’re in a crisis, the sooner we can address the crisis, and we are just not seeing that behaviour yet,” the group said.
“We need an immediate and collective emergency response. It is clear that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition was sufficiently concerned about the impact on food security to consider an import duty rebate on an expedited basis. It simply cannot be business as usual.
“All administrative measures related to permitting, customs and port clearance also need to be fast-tracked in order to get product into the market quickly and responsibly. This is in the best interest of consumers.”
While the local poultry industry has initiated measures to address the shortages, like importing over 50 million hatching eggs over the next six months, the reality is that there is a shortage now, which will persist for some time to come, the group said.
“It takes 21 days to incubate an egg, and between 33 and 35 days to grow a chicken to a size where they are ready for the market. To fully restore the parent stock of chickens in the country will take between 12 to 18 months – even when HPAI is under control.
“All the measures that are being taken by the local poultry industry to address stock shortages are welcome, but they will unfortunately add to the price that consumers pay for chicken products. We estimate this will increase the cost of chicken products by between R3 and R4 per kilogram.
“This is why a temporary, controlled relaxation of import duties is necessary, as it will cushion consumers against rising costs while helping the local industry to recover.”
The AMIE said that the temporary rebate will help offset the negative impact of the domestic chicken supply shortage on households, particularly the poor households that are increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity.
“Unless the rebate is granted, the domestic market is likely to experience significant price increases following the decline in local supply,” it said.