by SUSAN MANN
Chicken Farmers of Ontario has once again come under fire for its policy allowing farmers to only produce 300 chickens a year without quota.
But unlike previous criticisms from Practical Farmers of Ontario, which has asked Chicken Farmers to increase the number of birds farmers can produce annually without quota, Manitoulin Island small flock grower Glenn Black is far more sweeping in his condemnation of the board and its policies. Last month, Black sent Chicken Farmers and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission a 43-page report outlining his concerns about the small flock policy along with criticisms of the supply management system and general board policies and procedures.
Chicken Farmers officials couldn’t be reached for comment. In a Feb. 25 letter to Black, Chris Horbasz, Chicken Farmers director of policy and external relations, says the board will review his comments and concerns during any policy review and renewal process of its small flock regulation.
But Black says it could be decades before the next review and that’s not good enough. In a Feb. 25 email to Horbasz, which Black provided to Better Farming along with the letter from Chicken Farmers, he says “I feel this is an urgent matter for myself, other small flock chicken farmers and the Ontario public.”
Currently 10 per cent of Ontario families aren’t able to reasonably access the food they need. “If you have ever been hungry, I’m sure you will agree the situation cannot wait years,” he explains.
Black has requested a formal hearing about his concerns before the board within the next 60 days. If Chicken Farmers is unwilling or unable to hear his complaint in a timely manner, he says the board should waive its right to a hearing and he will take his concerns to the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal or the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.
Black has also started a blog in part, he says, to advocate for small flock growers’ civil rights and to start a discussion about where small flock growers fit into the supply management system and the job of providing locally produced, safe and nutritious food to Canadians.
Since 2008, food bank use has jumped by 40 per cent across Canada, he notes.
In his report, Black says Chicken Farmers doesn’t advocate for small flock growers in under-serviced areas of northern Ontario. Black, who farms in Providence Bay, says his area is under-serviced because the nearest abattoir is more than 300 kilometres away on the far side of Sudbury. Having his chickens processed there would have added $3 a pound, making the total price $6 a pound, which is unaffordable for the people in his area. “That basically killed the idea of us being able to supply our chickens to anybody but ourselves,” he says.
Instead of helping small flock growers, the chicken board takes a “laissez-faire attitude about the under-serviced areas of Ontario and is exclusively focused on the quota-based mega chicken factory producers, who are generally in geographic proximity to one or more slaughtering plants,” he says.
The chicken board also discriminates against small flock growers by denying them membership in Chicken Farmers, representation by district chicken producer committees and the ability to run and be elected as a director, he writes. Black asserts in his report he’s totally excluded from input or representation within Chicken Farmers but is subject to their regulations.
“I believe my exclusion from membership and representation in CFO is a breach of fundamental justice,” the report says.
Black says he’s studied regulations and laws under the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Act and “no where in there does it state that this system must be run in the best interests of the public.” In fact, he asserts, a Chicken Farmers bylaw states its directors must act in the best interests of Chicken Farmers of Ontario and not the farmers or the public.
The regulations don’t call chicken board directors to a higher standard of serving the public’s need, he says, noting “they have a government-created monopoly, which is a little bit too self-serving to my liking.”
Black says he understands and supports what Practical Farmers is trying to do but he’s not joining forces with them.
Sean McGivern, president of Practical Farmers of Ontario, says they still plan to file an appeal at the tribunal but currently they’re seeking legal advice on their case. Chicken Farmers has twice turned down the Practical Farmers’ request to allow farmers to produce 2,000 birds annually without quota and market beyond the farm gate.
“We are not giving up on this project,” he says.
Practical Farmers has also requested a meeting with Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne to discuss the matter, he says. BF