Monday, September 15, 2014

No Ontario kosher chicken in sight

Lawyer Herman Turkstra, speaking for the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors, testified during a tribunal hearing in Guelph Monday that “kosher has been looked after and is no longer an issue.”

He was referring to the demise of Ontario’s only kosher-standard chicken processor when Chai Kosher Poultry of Toronto closed in May, 2013, after selling its chicken-supply rights to Sargent Farms Ltd. which is unable to meet the kosher standard.

After that happened, kosher customers had only one source – Marvid Poultry of Montreal – and the price rose sharply.

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board and its parent supply-management partner, the Chicken Farmers of Canada national marketing agency, came under heavy political pressure from the influential Jewish community to meet the Ontario market demand from Ontario production and processing.

Despite Turkstra’s assurances to the tribunal, which was hearing an appeal over the chicken board’s failure to implement a specialty-markets policy it adopted more than a year ago, there is still no kosher-market production or processing in Ontario, and slim prospects there ever will be.

The board received five applications when it put out a request from proposals from processors, but the board has failed to answer repeated media requests about what has happened to those applications.

During a break in the tribunal hearing, board vice-chairman Murray Opstein said the board has yet to allocate any chicken supplies to a processor approved to serve the kosher market.

Joe Abate of Arthur, one of those who filed an application, said when he delved into the details of what would be required to achieve kosher-standard approval, he found it far too expensive and bureaucratic and he’s no longer interested.

Apparently nobody else is, either. The owners of Chai Poultry have sold their equipment.

When Turkstra was challenged to explain his comment to the tribunal, he said in a private conversation that the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors, whose members account for more than 95 per cent of chicken processing in the province, have agreed to make chicken supplies available from their market-share allotments to fill the demand for kosher-processed chicken.

When asked “at what price?” he said that’s something the AOCP members have not discussed.

Processors sometimes trade chicken supplies among themselves to meet their processing schedules and marketing situations, but the terms of those trades are confidential.

Turkstra also said that processors on a national level have written to the Farm Products Council of Canada, which supervises the national chicken agency, to say they will not oppose a national increase in chicken production allocations to provincial marketing boards to meet kosher-market demand.

The processors have apparently made that offer because they fear that businessmen interested in serving the kosher market might file an application with the federal government to gain the right to import kosher-standard chicken from the United States.

Not only would there be eager suppliers, but also prices would be substantially lower than kosher chicken from Marvid Poultry. It might also open the door to imports of other specialty-market poultry.

So far the federal trade officials, under lobbying pressure from the chicken industry, have refused to grant supplementary import permits for special-market chicken. 

They have successfully argued that if there is any generic chicken available from Canadians, no supplementary import permits should be granted.

CAMI International Poultry Inc. of Welland filed a court challenge against that when it was seeking supplementary import permits for live chickens so it could process them for the Hong Kong dressed market, mainly people of Asian ethnicity in the metropolitan Toronto area who want heads and feet left on.

The AOCP members arranged to supply CAMI with enough Ontario-grown chickens from their own market shares to persuade CAMI to drop its court challenge.