Friday, November 29, 2013

A smigeon of Hong Kong dressed birds ok’d

The national supply-management agency for chicken has opened the door a crack for farmers to grow a special breed of chicken, Silkies, to meet the demand for Hong Kong dressed birds.

Hong Kong dressed birds have both head and feet left on.

CAMI International Poultry Inc. of Welland, Ont., has been the major supplier for this market, which is mainly Asian immigrants living in the Greater Toronto area, but it has bought regular chicken from quota-holding farmers, many of them in Quebec.

That source of chickens was cut off last year when the Ontario and Quebec marketing boards, with support from the major processing companies, agreed to ban cross-border trade in live chickens.

Most processors who were buying chickens from farmers in the other province had their needs met after this ban by re-directing within-province production to keep them supplied.

CAMI was not. It has filed court action, challenging the legality of the ban on inter-provincial trade.

The Ontario chicken board has developed a policy to supply chickens to processing seeking specialty markets, but has been held up on two fronts.

One is an appeal against the policy filed by the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors. CAMI is not a member of that association.

Another is the refusal of the national agency to grant Ontario the right to increase chicken production to serve these markets.

It’s unlikely that many quota-holding chicken farmers will be interested in Silkie chickens because they are more costly to raise.

That is one of the reasons why the Ontario chicken board failed to reach agreement with the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors who sought to limit the specialty-markets policy to specific marginal breeds.

The processors’ appeal is scheduled to be heard by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Appeal Tribunal Dec. 11 and 12 in Guelph.

On a related front, Ontario’s request to the national agency for additional production to serve the kosher market was voted down by all the other provinces except British Columbia.

It got surprising support from the Canadian Egg and Poultry Processors Council which represents the major processing companies who have so far failed to meet the demand for kosher chicken.

In fact, one of its members, Sargent Farms, is the reason for the current shortage. It bought the chicken suppliers from Chai Kosher Poultry Inc. of Toronto, putting that company out of business.

Others supporting Ontario on the kosher issue were the associations representing restaurants and foodservice companies and further-processing companies.

The chairman of Chicken Farmers of Canada, the national agency, and staff also supported Ontario’s request and all of those supporters have been thanked publicly by Ontario chicken board chairman Henry Zantingh.

On its website, the Ontario board says “a significant number of kosher consumers have expressed concerns over the quality and quantity of available kosher chicken products and national media reports have noted that the supply of kosher chicken was disappearing from grocery store shelves.

“Ontario’s unfulfilled demand for kosher chicken has also started to have an impact on kosher markets across the country, creating kosher chicken shortages in other markets with significant Jewish populations, such as Winnipeg.”

There is a group of investors, including the former principals of Chai Kosher Poultry, interested in resuming processing at the Toronto plant, provided they can buy chickens.

These actions by the farmers and processors who govern chicken production across Canada are, I predict, likely to prompt politicians to intervene and order them to supply these markets.

It could be the beginning of the end of unquestioning and unqualified support for supply management that has been repeatedly pledged by all of Canada's political parties.