Chickens Hurt in Blackouts Prompt South Africa Power Request

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South African chicken producers will ask the government to help them guarantee electricity supply to the nation’s biggest abattoirs as almost-daily power cuts are harming the birds’ welfare and creating health risks.

The slaughterhouses, some of which can process as many as 13,000 chickens hourly, can’t rely on generators as they aren’t able to create sufficient power for their needs, South African Poultry Association Chief Executive Officer Kevin Lovell said. The birds are typically stunned unconscious by electrocution before they are decapitated while hanging upside down, he said.

When power cuts interrupt the process, the birds “have been stunned but they haven’t been killed; they’re hanging upside down and they’re coming back alive,” he said at Bloomberg’s offices in Johannesburg June 26. “It’s a real problem. And it’s a huge waste problem because everything that stops in the process, sometimes hundreds of tons, has to be cleared. You have to clean and sterilize everything and then you have to dump at a medical waste site.”

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the state-owned company that supplies about 95 percent of power used in the continent’s most-industrialized economy, has cut supply almost every other day this year as it struggles to meet demand amid regular breakdowns of plants and delays starting up new units. While rolling blackouts follow schedules, they are sometimes imposed at a few minutes’ notice.

Eskom Request

There were rolling blackouts on 20 days in June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg using alerts from Eskom.

Abattoirs belonging to producers including RCL Foods Ltd. and Astral Foods Ltd. slaughtered about 958 million chickens last year, Lovell said.

SAPA, as the poultry lobby is known, will approach the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries about asking Eskom and municipalities to directly control power supply to 20 of the largest slaughterhouses, which process about 80 percent of the country’s production, and provide about eight hours’ notice before cuts are introduced, Lovell said.

“Anywhere in the slaughtering process, the freezing process and the storage process, any break in that and you have a food-safety problem,” he said.

Eskom will attempt to accommodate the needs of the poultry industry once producers have made an approach, Khulu Phasiwe, a spokesman for Eskom, said by phone Tuesday.

Provider Cooperation

A company operating in the Western Cape province has arranged that it gets forewarned about planned disruptions and switches off supply to its feed mill during the day in exchange for not having electricity to its abattoir cut, Lovell said.

“Maybe that’s the sort of solution we can come up with,” he said.

Sufficient warning will limit losses and help processors and farmers plan transportation of the birds more efficiently, he said.

“Farms need to be no more than two hours away from abattoirs as that’s the sort of time period that the chickens can safely be contained in those crates” on trucks, he said. “If it starts to take longer than that, you start to get mortalities.”

About 58 percent of Eskom’s electricity sales are direct to customers such as mines and factories, with the rest is sold to municipalities who then distribute to residents and businesses, according to the company’s 2014 annual report.