Free­dom from hunger mat­ters most

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The other day, in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket, I no­ticed chicken breasts at half the usual price. But there was no ori­gin on the la­bel, so I asked the butcher where the pack came from. “Did it all our­selves, right here,” he said. Only later did it strike me that the butcher had said the pack­aged chicken had all been done “right here”. I checked the fol­low­ing day. He had meant the pack­ag­ing and pric­ing. And, by then, the cut-price poul­try dis­play fea­tured the var­i­ous pack­aged cuts, in­clud­ing “braai packs”, with ori­gin clearly la­belled: Brazil, Ger­many, etc.

How is it, I won­dered, that “pre­vi­ously frozen” chicken, raised and slaugh­tered in Ger­many, could sell at R34.99/kg as against R49.99/kg for the lo­cal va­ri­ety?

Does Ger­many not have a higher wage struc­ture than South Africa has? And are the pro­ducer costs not in euros? What about the ship­ping and freez­ing costs and the car­bon foot­print this en­tails?

Quite sim­ply, the sit­u­a­tion does not make sense, es­pe­cially when the known cost struc­ture of South African poul­try is taken into ac­count.

It seems mind-bog­gling to re­alise that, last year, South Africa im­ported 165 000 tons of chicken from the EU alone.

Add to that the quota of 65 000 tons a year of duty-free poul­try that is al­lowed to be ex­ported from the US.

Yet we pay in de­val­ued rands, and they sell in euros and dol­lars.

How many jobs, right through the sup­ply line as well as in main­te­nance and sup­port ser­vices, did these im­ports amount to?

And how many jobs have al­ready been lost lo­cally as a re­sult of these im­ports?

No won­der do­mes­tic pro­duc­ers are con­cerned. Trade unions should be too.

But the im­porters and re­tail­ers claim they are do­ing us all a favour, en­cour­ag­ing com­pe­ti­tion and help­ing con­sumers by low­er­ing prices.

This is both hyp­o­crit­i­cal and short-sighted: the com­pe­ti­tion is un­fair and will re­sult in fewer lo­cal jobs, thus fewer pay pack­ets and, ul­ti­mately, less con­sumer de­mand.

Here, again, is an ex­am­ple of how so many busi­nesses look only to gain­ing the max­i­mum profit in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

A blind spot ap­par­ently ex­ists when it comes to work­ers and job losses — and to the longterm con­se­quences, even for busi­ness.

Another fac­tor to bear in mind is that ac­cord­ing to the Bureau for Food and Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy, more than 60% of the meat con­sumed in South Africa be­tween 2012 and 2014 was poul­try.

The bureau also noted that coun­tries that pro­duce feed, such as maize, gen­er­ally tend to have an ad­van­tage in the mar­ket­place.

And, un­til the re­cent drought struck — for which there was con­sid­er­able fore­warn­ing — South Africa ex­ported mil­lions of tons of maize an­nu­ally.

Here pro­duc­ers can find com­mon ground with trade unions be­cause this in­flux of cheap poul­try means crip­pling the lo­cal in­dus­try with the loss of still more jobs.

This at a time when the lat­est youth un­em­ploy­ment statis­tics last week re­vealed the most ap­palling waste of hu­man po­ten­tial.

With Free­dom Day hav­ing been cel­e­brated on Wed­nes­day, and Work­ers’ Day to­day, we should think about the mil­lions of peo­ple with­out jobs who can pro­vide lit­tle or no food for the fam­ily ta­ble.

And we should re­alise that free­dom is largely mean­ing­less with­out free­dom from hunger.

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