Investigate the sale of shrinking and rotten chicken!
We start our 90th anniversary year facing one of the most critical challenges in our revolution, that of safeguarding its ideological integrity and values as a critical platform to wage, in the short term, an effective local government election campaign for an ANC overhelming victory, and in the medium to longer term, to defend its radical character as the most immediate route to a transition to socialism.
We closed the year 2010 with a shocking revelation of how one of the largest poultry producers in our country, Supreme Poultry, is selling rotten chicken to unsuspecting consumers. Contrary to what ordinary South Africans would have expected, the other meat producers closed ranks, and defended this fraudulent, if not criminal, activity as having broken no law of our country! At the very least the meat producers association should have committed itself to investigate this scandal, otherwise one is left with an uncomfortable question of what else do they know that we do not know?
The bourgeois print media also turned one blind eye to the seriousness of this matter, despite an open admission by Supreme Poultry, that indeed it does sell rotten chicken, but not to the big supermarket chains, instead to 'cheap wholesalers' and spaza shops. Indeed what this means is simply that rotten meat is being resold to the majority of black South Africans, most of whom buy their food from these 'cheap' wholesalers and the thousands of spaza shops in both urban and rural areas.
For the ill-informed, this would be regarded as ideological hypocrisy by the bourgeois establishment and its meat producers. Yet for the SACP this shows the extent to which the capitalist system is prepared to go to make profits at any (rotten) costs! If anything, the stance of the meat producers leaves one with an uneasy feeling that this may perhaps just be the tip of the iceberg and that there is a very real possibility that such practices maybe more widespread in the food industry.
Sections of the media have tried to ridicule our very serious call for government to launch an urgent investigation into this matter, and for the necessary punitive measures to be taken. We also hope that parliament would be interested in investigating this matter as well.
Perhaps this is a reflection of the extent to which our revolution is ideologically vulnerable, especially from those who benefit from the capitalist system, both inside and outside the ranks of our movement. This should perhaps also act as a clarion call to our movement, especially the SACP, to intensify the ideological offensive against racism and the capitalist system itself.
The liberal constitutionalists, who in recent times have been parading themselves as the biggest defenders of our constitution have been completely silent about this scandal. Perhaps their silence serves to expose the fact that liberal constitutionalists care less about the poor than to safeguard the interests of the elites in society. Selling rotten meat to poor black South Africans is a very serious affront to the dignity of millions of our people!
Of course we should all be careful not to create a public scare in dealing with this matter. But at the same time, this is indeed a very, very serious matter. And there are very sound reasons for the SACP to call for a full investigation into this matter.
Going through the website of Country Bird Holdings (CBH), the company that owns Supreme Poultry, there are some disturbing and interesting observations that one makes. In all of the recent coverage by the media, there is no mention of the fact that it was reported in South African media in April last year that the Zimbabwean government has banned all poultry importation from South Africa.
The press article in April reported in the Star reported the matter as follows
"The Zimbabwean Poultry Association (ZPA) has alleged that South African and South American poultry were heavily injected with a brine saltwater solution, to levels as high as 40%... The solution increased bird weight when frozen, but it seeped out before or during cooking, leaving the actual meat content at 60-70% of the original weight, the ZPA said.
"The association said it also suffered of unfair competition because South African chickens were fed genetically modified maize ingredients, which compromised the quality of the meat".
Instead of challenging these serious allegations about the quality of our poultry which led to the Zimbabwean government taking a decision to ban the importation of South African poultry, a senior executive of Supreme Poultry, is quoted in the same article as saying that "I think it's because we are more efficient than them... He added that this is absolutely a business decision and has nothing to do with animal health or with GM maize". It is also an interesting co-incidence that it was Zimbabwe that took this action, when a number of the directors of both Supreme Poulty and CBH are Zimbabwean expatriates or have had some Zimbabwean connection!
This response is no different from current responses from the same company when the scandal of the sale of rotten chicken was exposed. Instead of confronting the allegations and putting us at ease, they instead pointed out that there is nothing illegal in selling rotten chicken, particularly, we suppose, if these are sold to 'cheap' wholesalers and spaza shops!
Incidentally, in the day to day campaigning work that the SACP is doing through its 'Know Your Neighbourhood Campaign' we have come across complaints, especially in parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, on the problem of shrinking poultry once it is defrosted or cooked, but we could not explain the reason for this. Could the allegations by the Zimbabwe Poultry Association be our answer to this 'strange' phenomenon of shrinking chicken?
It is also very interesting that in its own 2009 annual report, Country Bird Holdings reports an increase in its operating profit of a whopping 354%, from R41m to R186m, all in one financial year! In the same report, it is also said that whilst the average increase in the price of poultry in South Africa was around 19%, that of CBH was around 22%. Why?
The SACP also takes this matter very seriously for three other reasons. Firstly, why, if this a perfectly legal trading practice to resell rotten chicken, is this not reflected on the chicken itself and for consumers to be told about this? This matter has only come to fore as a result of a whistleblower, who is reportedly being legally pursued by the company concerned.
Secondly, a matter that the media has not picked up, is that, Supreme Poultry are also reported to be suppliers to Nandos and Kentucky Fried Chicken! Most seriously, is that such practices, if not properly investigated can damage the reputation of South Africa as a meat exporting country, thus placing at risk thousands of workers' jobs.
The SACP will not rest until this matter has been fully investigated and appropriate action taken.
Phansi ngezinkukhu ezibolile!
Blade Nzimande is SACP general secretary. This article first appeared in the Party's online journal, Umsebenzi Online.
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