CAPE TOWN, March 24 (NNN-SA NEWS) -- Public hearings have begun into South Africa's poultry industry, which has shrunk by 7,9 per cent and continues to do so, placing the country's main source of protein at risk because of the adoption of Western diets and the dumping of cheap chicken cuts in the country.

These concerns were expressed on the first day of public hearings into the state of the poultry industry to the Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Industry at Parliament here Thursday.

The South African poultry industry has been beset by a number of challenges in recent years, beginning with the threat of losing duty-free market access to the United States under Washington's African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and more recently, dumping of chicken by the US and European countries in South Africa, where the industry has lost 6,000 jobs over the past 12 months.

The hearings were opened by the Department of Trade and Industry Deputy Directors-General, Garth Strachan and Xolelwa Mlumbi.

Strachan said poultry produced in South Africa, despite challenges, was actually cheaper than the European Union (EU) and the United States. There's a myth that (poultry from) South Africa is more expensive. Although we are more expensive than Brazil, we are looking into that, he added.

He said a government task force had been established to look into the problems, which include trade measures and tariffs, industrial finance and incentives, export support and State sector procurement.

Last week, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament that the government was working with industry in the framework of international trade and using instruments like tariffs and incentives. The government was also looking at ways to help reduce input costs and make the industry competitive.

The industry, which employs between 48,000 people directly and 63,000 people when indirect jobs are included, has seen domestic demand slowing. From 2003 to 2010, poultry imports rose by 11 per cent and local production by 7.0 per cent. Poultry consumption soared in the period leading up to 2010, but then levelled out in the same year.

The department's concerns were echoed by the South African Poultry Association (SAPA), which reiterated concerns of dumping in the industry. SAPA's Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Lovell, presented the association's findings, which strongly included dumping and the effect of this practice on the local poultry industry. Dumping is the act of selling goods in a foreign market at a price that is less than what they cost to produce in the country of origin.

We need action against dumping to survive... Nothing is made for us. Everything exported to us is surplus to local requirements in the exporting country..., said Lovell, adding that in 2016, South Africa was the EU's biggest export destination with more than 19 per cent of EU exports.