Poultry Brining Regulations Still on Ice

Plans to cap the levels of brine injected into poultry products has come to a standstill in South Africa, due to a stand off between Government and the industry. Glenneis Kriel reports.
calendar icon 15 March 2016
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The South African Government’s plan to cap brining levels of poultry products at 10 per cent for whole birds and 15 per cent for individual portions, has not come into force as planned in March this year, because of a dispute over the feasibility of the suggested levels.

According to Mr David Wolpert, the CEO of the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters in South Africa, government announced the amended regulations in October last year after it came to light back in 2011 that between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of frozen poultry products contained more than 30 per cent brine.

Up until then there was an 8 per cent cap on the use of brine in whole birds, but no cap on the use of brine individual products.

He claimed that this problem was “unique” to South Africa, with most other countries not allowing such high levels of brining: “As importers of poultry, our product is 99 per cent brine-free, which means that our consumers aren’t being conned. Brazil, for example, has completely outlawed the practice many years ago.”

Mr Kevin Lovell, CEO of Poultry South Africa, however countered that brining was an old practice and not “unique” to South Africa.

According to him, regulations concerning brining differed from one region to another, with the US and Europe not even having caps.

These regions instead required suppliers to specify the brine content on product labels, leaving the decision of whether they want the product or not up to the consumer. The South African Government in contrast plans to cap and regulate the labelling of these products, according to Mr Lovell.

The hold-up

Mr Lovell said that the industry was in favour of most of Government’s suggestions, but contesting the 15 per cent limit on individual portions.

“Brining levels for individual portions and poultry products at the moment vary between 25 and 30 per cent. The industry is therefore suggesting that the new limit be set at 25 per cent, as this would have the least impact on production and consumer prices,” Mr Lovell said.

He explained that the use of brining helped to reduce production costs, rendering poultry meat more affordable.

“There is a misconception that the industry is charging consumers for the brine as if it is meat, but this is not the case in South Africa. Here the consumers are only charged for the meat part, which helps to turn poultry products into an affordable protein source,” Mr Lovell said.

He added that there was also a misconception that brine caused poultry to have unacceptably high levels of sodium: “Poultry has been identified as a medium salt product by the World Health Organisation. Its salt levels are much lower than that of most of its competing products, even when containing brine.”

The industry feels that Government’s recommendations are based on “incorrect data” and that suggestions on ways to enforce and monitor these levels were impractical.

Mr Lovell said that the industry wasn’t against the brining restrictions, it just wanted these levels to be economically viable and practically enforceable.

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