Singaporeans feel the pinch of Malaysia’s chicken export ban

Chickens are seen at a poultry farm in Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia, May 27, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Singaporeans’ demand for chicken rice – a hearty and beloved meal consisting of poached chicken, seasoned rice and chili sauce – has been hampered since June 1, when Malaysia’s chicken export ban entered into force.

As well as tightening chicken supplies in Singapore and raising the prices of its signature dish, the export ban has also highlighted the city-state’s need for a sustainable food supply, even in the face of an emergency. disruption of the global supply chain.

Food security is particularly crucial for a land-poor country like Singapore, which covers just over 700 square kilometres. Without an agricultural industry to speak of, it has to import around 90% of its food.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have tightened the supply of various basic commodities, highlighting the need for most countries to increase their own food supply.

“But we (shouldn’t) confuse food security with self-sufficiency,” said Carmelo Ferito, chief executive of the Kuala Lumpur-based Center for Market Education think tank and a senior poultry industry executive.

Ferito said the best way to ensure food security is to improve access to international markets, adding that Singapore was “playing a smart game, looking for alternative suppliers, so it could only suffer for a short time.” period”.

It’s not the first time Singapore has faced a food export ban, so the government is applying a “resilience strategy” by diversifying food imports, according to Paul Teng, deputy senior fellow at the Center for Non- Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Singapore’s chicken supply comes not only from Malaysia, but also from the United States, Brazil and Thailand. Teng said Malaysia’s chicken export ban has not caused any shortage of chicken, as there are plenty of frozen chickens available in the market. But Malaysia, due to its proximity, is Singapore’s only source of freshly slaughtered chicken. This is a blow to sellers and consumers of chicken rice, as the dish is usually made with fresh chicken.

Desmond Tan, Singapore’s Minister of State for Sustainability and Environment, said that instead of fresh chicken from Malaysia, Singapore will import chilled chicken from Thailand and Australia.

Teng, deputy principal researcher, said another part of Singapore’s food security strategy is to improve local production. He cited the government’s “30 x 30” food security plan, through which Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030. One way to achieve this is to produce “new and future proteins”, did he declare.

“There’s a big movement in this field, to create (alternative sources) of protein through cultured meat, plant-based products and insect protein,” Teng said, adding that many startups in Singapore are continuing this business.

In December 2020, the Singapore Food Agency approved an application by US startup Eat Just to manufacture and sell cell-cultured chicken. Eat Just is building a production facility that will manufacture mung bean-based whole egg substitutes and cultured meat products.

Singapore-based Next Gen Foods, maker of plant-based chicken alternative TiNDLE, raised $100 million in February to fund market expansion as well as research and development. In the same month, Singapore launched INSEACT, an insect protein facility that produces sustainable insect protein for aquaculture.

William Chen, director of the food science and technology program at Nanyang Technological University, said producing alternative foods such as insect protein or algae-based foods is important, since High corn and soybean prices have led to chicken shortages in Malaysia.

Price up

Local chicken prices in Malaysia have risen since late last year as the COVID-19 pandemic limited supplies of maize and soybeans, key ingredients in poultry feed. This has increased feed prices and therefore chicken prices. The government imposed a ceiling price equivalent to $2.02 per kilo to curb further price increases.

“It seems clear that producing chickens for the domestic market at the target price was loss-making (for poultry farmers),” said Khor Yu Leng, regional economist at Singapore-based consultancy Segi Enam Advisors.

Khor said this discouraged production, tightened local supply and forced the government to ban chicken exports.

Geoffrey Williams, dean of the Institute of Graduate Studies at the University of Science and Technology Malaysia, said local growers in Malaysia expect supply to increase in about a month, which will lead to the lifting of the export ban.

“Once the ban is lifted, we expect the market to return to normal, as Malaysia sells live chickens and whole chickens, which the consumer in Singapore prefers. There should be no effects. serious long-term,” Williams said.