Shady chicken-meat imports have Canadian poultry producers riled up

Mislabelling chicken as spent fowl has allowed American chicken processors to avoid more than $60 million in yearly tariffs, say Canadian chicken producers

Canadian chicken producers are crying foul over shady American spent fowl exports.

Last year, Canada imported more than 97 million kilograms of chicken meat that was declared as being from spent fowl — which is 110 per cent of the United States’ entire annual spent fowl production.

“We’re importing a lot more (spent fowl) than the United States even produces,” said Erna Ference, chair of Alberta Chicken Producers.

“That leads us to believe there’s some foul play coming into effect.”

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, spent fowl can come into Canada duty free. American processors mislabelling chicken as spent fowl meat stand to gain millions of dollars by avoiding import controls.

“The tariff is huge. They’re avoiding the tariff for that amount of import,” said Ference.

“You’re talking about millions of dollars in avoidance of tariff fees, in excess of $60 million in tariffs (annually).”

And Canadian chicken producers are on the losing end of the deal — with an estimated 9,000 jobs and nearly $600 million in GDP being lost.

“Because it comprises about 10 per cent of our market, it’s costing us jobs and chicken production,” she said.

“All those jobs that are in the chicken production industry in Canada are being curtailed. It’s hurting not just ourselves but our downstream partners like our processors.”

American manufacturers of products such as chicken burgers or nuggets are also blending spent fowl meat with broiler meat to keep their costs down.

“It’s to their benefit because of the high price of broiler meat versus fowl meat,” said Ference. “Because of the taste, it’s better to use broiler meat, but there’s a combination of fowl meat and broiler meat going into the production stream.”

Ultimately that hurts consumers, she said.

“People think that it’s just chicken that they’re consuming. They’re not getting what they’re paying for.”

The Canadian chicken industry is “addressing it on a few fronts.”

The first is to have the Canadian Border Services Agency classify blended products as chicken, not spent fowl — regardless of the proportions of each type of meat in the product.

“If it’s a blended product, we think it should be labelled chicken and tariffed accordingly,” she said. “Right now, it counts as fowl meat, so it’s duty free.”

Canadian chicken producer groups are also working with border services to “tighten up some of the inspections done at the border,” possibly through DNA testing.

“I think that we’ll be seeing a test come about — hopefully soon,” said Ference.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has also been asked to enforce “truth in the labelling of spent fowl” for Canadian consumers.

“There is an allergy danger. These spent hens, because they’ve had eggs, there could be allergy risks associated with that.”

But mandatory certification for spent fowl is the ultimate goal.

“We’ve been working really hard with the CFIA to start a mandatory certification,” she said. “That would avoid any mislabelling of any of the chicken that’s being imported into the country.”

And the Canadian chicken industry has found an unlikely ally in their American counterparts, who are also working on clearer certification for spent fowl through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We’re under the understanding that the Americans don’t like this either because it could hurt our trading relations with them,” said Ference. “They’re interested in assuring that it’s only fowl meat coming across as well.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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