by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario chicken industry is clearly in a crisis and provincial Agriculture Minister/Premier Kathleen Wynne needs to appoint an unbiased task force to resolve a number of problems faced by independent poultry processors says the president of a provincial poultry processing organization.
Betty Dikeos, president of the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors (OIPP) says in a July 5 letter to Wynne the task force must be an independent body and it, along with industry stakeholders, needs to resolve eight outstanding matters by the end of this year. OIPP will accept the task force recommendations as “binding arbitration,” Dikeos writes. But OIPP wants a full and equal opportunity to participate in the task force.
OIPP also requested a meeting with Wynne and say they are disappointed she has so far refused to meet with them.
Meanwhile, the province has turned the OIPP’s concerns over to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission. Gabrielle Gallant, Wynne’s agriculture ministry spokesperson, says by email the commission as the lead for the regulated poultry industry will continue working with industry stakeholders to “address the concerns and interests of all Ontario’s chicken sector.”
She says they appreciate OIPP for notifying them about its concerns in the July 5 letter. “This is an ongoing and complex situation and there is no decision on any issue that will satisfy each stakeholder. Decisions must be made in the balanced interest of strengthening the chicken sector and the agri-food industry as a whole.”
Dikeos couldn’t be reached for comment.
Commission chair Geri Kamenz couldn’t be reached for comment. Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s communications and government relations director Michael Edmonds couldn’t be reached for comment.
The theme – that it’s important for the industry to serve consumers - came up several times in Dikeos’s letter. It seems that every challenge facing the industry is being resolved in lengthy and costly court cases or being appealed at the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal with no regard to the consumers of Ontario, it says.
The letter also says it is important the public interest be the motivating factor to resolving the outstanding matters. “We insist on a second generation supply management that creates an economic opportunity for the industry to grow in Ontario.”
While there is full political support at Queen’s Park for the proposed Local Food Act, Chicken Farmers of Ontario can’t deliver on a key message in the act’s preamble – that Ontarians have access to local, fresh and culturally appropriate food, the letter says.
Asked what are the three main matters of the eight the association raised in its letter, John Slot, OIPP general manager, says an important one is full implementation of the specialty market policy developed under the commission’s direction. The policy was developed to meet the needs of consumers who prefer chicken grown or processed in a unique manner.
The policy would provide processors of specialty markets, such as kosher or Hong Kong-style chicken – which has the head and feet left attached to the bird – with kilograms of chicken.
Industry players haven’t yet been able to agree on whether the kilograms of chicken to supply the specialty market should come from within Ontario’s total allocation or be a special allocation given to Ontario by Chicken Farmers of Canada in addition to its total amount. The matter was headed to the tribunal but the hearing has been put on hold.
Marty Brett, senior communications officer with Chicken Farmers of Canada, says Ontario’s allocation for last year was 331 million kilograms of the 1.2 billion kilograms for Canada as a whole. The allocation is adjusted for each of the 6.5 quota periods annually.
Canada has 174 chicken processing plants with 43 being federally inspected and 131 are provincially inspected, Brett says. Eleven of the 43 federally inspected plants are in Ontario and 31 of the provincial ones are in Ontario.
Slot says the OIPP has requested a hearing before Chicken Farmers of Ontario to encourage it to implement the specialty market policy.
The demand for specialty chicken in Ontario is huge “because of the cultural makeup of the Ontario population,” Slot notes, with Hong Kong style and kosher at the top of the list. There’s also demand for specialty breeds.
Ontario has about 32 per cent of the national share of the domestic allocation, but has 39 per cent of the country’s population and about 60 per cent of the further processing industry, Slot says.
Slot says if difficulties for independent further poultry processors in Ontario to retain live fresh supply don’t get resolved, it will be very difficult for them to survive. The problems must also be fixed “so we can create stability and predictability in the industry.”
Another key matter raised by OIPP that must be solved involves Cami International Poultry Inc. of Welland, a federally approved air chilled processing facility. Slot says Cami has had its interprovincial movement kilograms taken away from its supply and now the matter is before the courts. The kilograms involved are 600,000 per each of the 6.5 quota periods in a year. Every quota period is eight weeks.
Slot says he can’t comment further on the Cami court case.
A third matter is that the French-speaking eastern Ontario producers being able to ship their chickens to Quebec “as an option because historically those kilograms always went to Quebec,” Slot notes.
OIPP also mentioned the small bird flock exemption and that it should be increased or equal to other provinces’ amounts. Currently in Ontario people can produce up to 300 chickens quota free annually. But there are efforts by several people to increase that to 2,000 birds annually. Slot says they aren’t joining forces with the groups planning to challenge the policy at the tribunal. BF