Country Bird Rejects Government Accusations

SOUTH AFRICA - Country Bird says the agriculture department is wrong to allege it contradicted regulations on the processing of chicken.
calendar icon 11 February 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Feather flew yesterday as Country Bird Holdings, South Africa's third-largest poultry producer, angrily denied accusations by the Department of Agriculture that the company had contravened regulations in its preparation and packaging of chicken, according to Business Day.

The department was "factually inaccurate" for saying Country Bird’s Supreme Poultry unit broke the law by injecting brine into all portions of frozen chicken.

Only breast meat could be treated in this way, the department said in a statement on 9 February, following an inspection of Supreme's Free State Botshabelo abattoir last month.

Supreme – the subject of recent attention for its practice of reworking frozen chickens by thawing, washing, injecting them with brine and refreezing them with new dates on the packaging – insisted its practice was legal and widespread.

"It is legal and an industry norm to brine all frozen chicken portions and (the department’s) claim in this regard is unconditionally refuted," Country Bird commented.

The company got backing from the industry body, the South African Poultry Association, which said that the department was talking beyond its mandate. Brining inspections were the responsibility of the Department of Health, not agriculture, said association CEO, Kevin Lovell.

The department was essentially saying 90 per cent of all chicken produced in South Africa was illegal, Mr Lovell said. "This grossly incorrect statement has serious consequences for the department and its communications staff as it is clear that they have little knowledge of their own laws and regulations."

Mr Lovell responded angrily to the department's assertion that a test on chicken from Supreme's abattoir showed diluted nutrients and raised salt levels that "may pose a health risk" for consumers. "They are talking on a field in which they have no legislated power. The levels they speak of are not considered, by a great body of science, to be elevated."

Country Bird also said the dilution of nutrients made the product more affordable.

"The dilution of the product which occurs during brining is reflected in the price, just as the price of orange squash and the price of 100 per cent orange juice differ according to their dilution," the company said.

The saga has cost Country Bird, reports Business Day. Zimbabwe blocked its borders to the company’s imports – equivalent to 1.2 per cent of its total production, which Supreme's managing director, Izaak Breitenbach, said had a material effect on the business.

While the company said its level of disclosure met all requirements, the whole issue raises questions about how much information consumers are given about the food they eat.

Mr Lovell said new regulations coming into effect in March next year – applying to all food, not just poultry – would require frozen chickens to declare on the packaging that they contained added salt and sodium.

While Mr Lovell said the department had got it wrong, he did say the practice of reworking chickens as Supreme does was not followed by all producers. However, Country Bird has said all producers follow the practice.

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