A large influx of smuggled chicken meat from Argentina into Paraguay has overwhelmed the local market and is threatening to put local farmers out of business.
The problem has escalated to the point where poultry from Argentina, mostly smuggled across the Paraná River, makes up for 70 percent of chicken consumption in Paraguay, according to the country’s poultry farmer association, Avipar. Homegrown chicken accounts for just 20 percent of the market and smuggled poultry from Brazil claims the last 10 percent.
With the Paraguayan economy still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for cheaper, mass-produced poultry from abroad, coupled with weak regulatory measures, has led to around 2 million kilograms of chicken being smuggled from Argentina every month, according to media reports.
Most of the chicken comes across the border to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second-largest city. Trucks also make their way to other cities, such as Caaguazú, Coronel Oviedo and the capital, Asunción.
In a statement criticizing the national response to this crisis, Avipar stated that Paraguay’s national production has dropped to less than 500,000 kilograms of chicken a week. The association criticized police, navy and customs officials for accepting bribes to let the contraband through.
Chicken smuggling is not just a Paraguay problem. Last April, InSight Crime reported on how Mexican chickens and eggs were increasingly being smuggled into Guatemala.
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Paraguayan officials are increasing the number of scheduled and random patrols along known smuggling routes, pledging “zero contraband.”
But the minuscule number of seizures reported to date and the seeming lack of regional cooperation make these promises seem fleeting.
Last year, the government launched a concerted effort to rein in contraband of all types spearheaded by an anti-smuggling task force. The operation faced criticism, however, for employing some of the same navy, police officers and customs officials accused of facilitating contraband in the first place.
According to InSight Crime field investigations, hundreds of clandestine ports line the Paraná River along the Argentine and Brazilian borders, allowing contraband goods to be moved to Ciudad del Este and elsewhere nationwide.