Cracks widen in SA’s egg supply: Calls for regional imports intensify
Role players in the egg industry have put various possible solutions on the table to address the egg shortage due to the bird flu outbreak.
The egg shortage in the country has the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) calling on the government to open the borders to enable imports from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Malawi.
This while a major egg importer also says it requires immediate legislative intervention and assurances for importers to step up and plug the gap on shelves.
Dr Abongile Balarane of Sapa says the association’s Egg Organisation welcomes the announcement by Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza, to allow the import of fertile eggs for hatcheries, including products such as powder and liquid eggs.
“These are good steps to assist the industry during this crisis. Under normal circumstances, the South African egg industry has about 27 million hens providing eggs daily. Unfortunately, about six million of those layer hens were culled, with another three million suspected to be affected.”
He says the industry has fully agreed to import a bulk of powder and liquid eggs which are mainly used for industrial purposes and then channel all the available fresh table eggs to consumers.
“This will assist us while we are rebuilding the flock size and waiting for vaccines to be allowed in South Africa.”
SADC countries can help with egg shortage
In addition, Balarane says the industry believes that most of the SADC countries, such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Malawi, which are free from avian influenza, can assist the industry to fill in some of the needed supplies.
“Unfortunately, in 2017 during the previous Avian Influenza, we had poor, rotten eggs dumped into South Africa from South America and this affected our industry’s reputation. This then led to the revision of the current Regulation 345 [R.345] that sets out clear rules for anyone wishing to import shell eggs and products.”
Balarane explains that the 40 days from the day of lay referred to in the regulation aims to protect consumers from poor quality eggs in the market which are refrigerated at temperatures as low as +1 to +4 degrees Celsius from countries exporting to South Africa by sea.
When these eggs are immediately exposed to ambient South African temperatures, the quality decline increases.
All unpasteurised table eggs cannot be sold after 40 days from the date of lay.
Importer calls for lifting of regulation
Meanwhile egg importer Hume International has called for immediate legislative intervention and assurances for importers to step up and plug the gap on shelves.
“The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development’s regulations regarding the grading, packing and marking of eggs intended for sale in South Africa, otherwise known as Regulation 345, prohibits the sale of imported eggs after 40 days from the date of hatching.
“Yet well-refrigerated eggs remain edible for up to six months, which could theoretically allow egg imports to bridge the supply shortage as local producers are hard-hit by a bird flu outbreak,” Jonathan Katz from Hume International says.
“Imports play a critical role in filling shortages in the local market when local suppliers fail to meet demand. South Africa currently only imports around $1.6 million worth of eggs per year, making it the 118th largest importer in the world according to trade data released by the Observatory of Economic Complexity. To resolve the country’s current egg shortage crisis, this amount needs to substantially increase.”
Katz says shell eggs, or what are commonly call table eggs, are not imported in large enough volumes to meet local demand at this time.
“With the onset of the recent egg shortage, we urgently need to reevaluate the efficacy of South Africa’s fairly obstructive import restrictions. We need government to intervene to temporarily lower import restrictions on eggs and relook the regulations to ensure this type of situation does not happen again.”
Shipping could take almost 40 days
He explains it would normally take two weeks to ship eggs from port to port from South America for example, but if the shipping company moves the eggs from one vessel to another, it could add an extra two days. If there are issues to get the eggs out of the exporting country, it could take an additional week. Any issues at the local port could push the shipment beyond the tight 40-day period.
“If this happens, importers can apply for a special dispensation with the department of food safety and quality assurance at the department. This dispensation is a standard request for permission to temporarily deviate from the regulation and may take another month, with no guarantee that it will be accepted.”
Katz says in his company’s experience, a number of departments seem to be on the side of importers, mainly because they understand that something needs to be done about the egg crisis.
“But a single container of eggs costs in the region of R1 million and we have little to no assurance that we will receive the dispensation needed to sell the eggs should a shipment exceed the allowed 40-day sell-by period. No importer wants to risk a financial loss of this size.”
He says while their clients in the food industry alone currently require four million eggs per month for the foreseeable future, the company cannot assist without the necessary policy interventions and certainty from government.
However, Balarane says the industry does not support Hume International’s call for government to lift the 40-day rule under regulation R.345.
“Everyone must abide by the laws of the country. We call on the department for immediate assistance to fast-track our discussions to open SADC countries that do not have avian influenza at the moment.”
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