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Smuggled Chickens Flood Zimbabwean Market

by 5m Editor
10 September 2010, at 8:41a.m.

ZIMBABWE - A team of Zimbabwean veterinary experts jetted into Brazil and Uruguay last week to carry out extensive inspections of chicken abattoirs that have applied to export to the country, an indication that the government could be desperate to increase poultry imports in order to augment depleted local output.

Zimbabwe imports about 3 000 tonnes of chickens per month worth about US$60 million. While local suppliers sufficiently produced for the domestic market previously, high production costs and stock feed shortages, among other impediments, have had a severe knock on output.

AllAfrica.com reports that capacity among local chicken producers has therefore plunged to 1 900 tonnes per month against an estimated demand of 3 500 tonnes.

Local producers had lobbied in May that they had enough poultry stocks in their cold rooms but were being short-changed by imported brands that were landing in Zimbabwe at cheaper prices on the strength that their arguments, the government had procceded to impose a ban on chicken imports. A few months later, the ban was lifted after it became apparent that local poultry producers had no capacity to meet demand. The government has licensed a number of companies to bridge the deficit through imports.

Companies that have been licensed to import chicken from approved foreign abattoirs include Innscor, which has a 100 metric tonne monthly quota, Zenith Distributors, 50 metric tonnes, Seedex Enterprises, 50 metric tonnes and Fresh Pro among others.

Most imported chickens come from South Africa where three major producers - Supreme, Chubby Chicks and Day Break - have been approved by government to export into Zimbabwe.

Two Brazilian abattoirs and one each from Argentina and Uruguay have also been exporting chickens to Zimbabwe. Veterinary experts say at least seven more abattoirs would be inspected during the trip to Brazil and Uruguay to improve output from the mass-producing South American economies.

They say a single plant in Brazil can slaughter up to five million birds per day, which is in sharp contrast to the 700 000 chickens slaughtered by South African producers per day.

"At the end of this week (last week), our teams are leaving for South America to inspect abattoirs," Josphat Nyika, who heads the inspections unit at the Veterinary Services Department, told The Financial Gazette.

"My department is tasked with the duty of safeguard the Zimbabwean consumer. We inspect abattoirs all over the world. These inspections are absolutely necessary to make sure standards are equivalent to our own, and those of the World Trade Organisation," the veterinary chief added.

He said inspectors had to be convinced that imported chickens do not contain harmful additives, are unconditionally passed fit for human consumption and they do not constitute risks of introducing infectious or contagious diseases into Zimbabwe.

Inspectors comb through entire production processes, Nyika said, from packaging, slaughter to storage, scanning for chicken diseases like the deadly H5N1 Virus and the bacterial infection, salmonella.

They also study if birds destined for Zimbabwe meet the 15 percent water content required by government.

But despite the strenuous inspections, hundreds of tonnes of unapproved chicken brands are still trickling into Zimbabwe, according to industry sources.

The illegally imported chickens were sometimes rebranded and sold to unsuspecting consumers in approved labels, putting lives in great danger.

Two unapproved brands, whose names have been provided, were on sale in Harare and Bulawayo last week. This brought into doubt the effectiveness of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), which controls the country's entry points, and the Veterinary Services Department.

The Financial Gazette understands that to dodge authorities, illegal chicken imports coming from South Africa are sometimes diverted to the Plumtree Border Post where ZIMRA has no scanners.

At the time of going to press yesterday, ZIMRA commissioner general, Gershem Pasi, had not responded to questions sent to his office last week.

Mr Nyika said he was not aware of the illegal poultry importations "If we get wind of such imports we immediately go to the companies to carry out inspections," he said. Zimbabwe Poultry Association chairman, Solomon Zawe, said reports of illegal imports served as a wakeup call for the authorities. "Our ports are very loose," Zawe said.

"We need strong controls at these entry points. Corruption should stop because illegal imports destroy the (poultry) industry. This lies in the hands of ZIMRA and the Ministry of Finance who should wake up," added Zawe.

Meanwhile, the South Africa Poultry Association (SAPA) said accusations that its members were exporting into Zimbabwe genetically modified chickens had no basis.

"The accusations by Zimbabwe that we are supplying genetically modified chickens are without substance," said Kevin Lovell, chief executive officer of SAPA.

"There is no such thing as a genetically modified chicken anywhere in the world. Even if a person, a chicken, or a cow for that matter, eats genetically modified maize that does not make you genetically modified since you cannot change your own genes by eating food," Mr Lovell said.

He said the Zimbabwean government and especially poultry producers in the were just looking for excuses to "avoid having to compete with the highly efficient and sophisticated" South African poultry industry.