Singapore not strutting into poultry farming even as it seeks food resilience: Grace Fu

SINGAPORE does not intend to go into local poultry production, even as it improves its food resilience, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu in Parliament on Monday (July 4).

Addressing questions by several Members of Parliament (MPs) on Singapore’s food supply and Malaysia’s chicken export ban, Fu reiterated Singapore's multi-pronged approach to mitigating the impact of food supply disruptions.

First, the Singapore Food Agency works with the industry to build supply network resilience, having accredited over 170 countries and regions as sources.

Chicken from Malaysia accounts for 99 per cent of Singapore’s live and chilled chicken imports, but only about 34 per cent of all chicken imports – because there is the alternative of frozen chicken, said Fu.

Asked by Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) why more countries had not been approved for live and chilled chicken imports, Fu said that Thailand and Australia had already been accredited. For other countries, concerns include food safety and occurrences such as avian flu.

Importers themselves may gravitate to the source market that is most competitive, whether because it is closest or has an established logistical chain, she added. “Because of competition they will be reluctant to try new areas that may increase the cost, they may be reluctant to try new products because it is not familiar to the consumers.”

As for whether diversification could be made a licensing condition, Fu noted that Singapore already has such a condition for egg importers, adding: “We will think about whether it is necessary for chicken as well.”

Singapore has accredited 25 countries for chicken imports. During the recent ban, industry partners such as SATS and trade associations such as the Meat Traders Association and the Poultry Merchants Association have increased imports of frozen chicken from Brazil and the United States, and chilled chicken from Thailand and Australia, added Fu.

Second, Singapore aims to produce up to 30 per cent of nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030. Asked if Singapore plans to accelerate this “30 by 30” goal, Fu said that it is “already very ambitious” and the transformation required will take time.

Nor does the goal cover poultry. Responding to Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC), who asked if there could be local poultry production, Fu said: “Given our land, labour, energy and water constraints, we prefer to concentrate on farming food items that can be produced in a resource-efficient and commercially sustainable manner.”

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), producing 1 kg of chicken for meat would generate 5.3 kg of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, about 3 times that of some fish, she added.

Even as Singapore mitigates risks to its food security, it “will not be able to eliminate all risks” as “to do so would be costly and uneconomical”, said Fu. “We will also not be able to isolate Singapore from the price fluctuations of food supply.”

As price controls or subsidies distort business conditions and may not be financially sustainable, Singapore instead provides financial support to the lower-income, she said.

Asked about support for businesses and consumers, Fu observed that “the majority of poultry market stalls and chicken rice hawker stalls have remained open” during the current ban. “We have also linked up affected hawkers and market stallholders with the Meat Traders Association to switch to frozen or thawed frozen chicken.”

"Because of climate change, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and disruptions in supply chains globally, we expect more disruptions to our food supply ahead of us," said Fu.

Singapore remains "vigilant and nimble in the execution of our strategy when new conditions emerge", she said, urging businesses to review business continuity plans and diversify supplies, and encouraging consumers to pivot to other food types when one is not available.

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