N.B. chicken processor presses for supply, threatens closure

The operators of New Brunswick’s only federally-inspected chicken plant have launched a public campaign to restore its supply of New Brunswick birds, and says the plant “could close” if it doesn’t get it.

Nadeau Poultry, owned by Ontario packer Maple Lodge Farms and operating at St. Francois-de-Madawaska, N.B., recently launched a campaign of public signage and a “New Brunswick Chicken Crisis” website urging the province to intervene in its case.

The campaign comes as construction work begins this month on “Sunnymel,” a $30 million chicken processing plant at nearby Clair, N.B., stemming from a 2008 joint venture formed by New Brunswick poultry producer Groupe Westco and Quebec meat processor Olymel.

In advance of the Clair plant’s construction, Westco in 2009 began shipping its Sunnymel birds across the provincial border to Olymel’s plants in Quebec for processing.

Nadeau, which now describes Westco and Olymel’s move as “an attempt to force (it) to sell” its plant to the Sunnymel partners, then laid off almost half the staff at its St. Francois plant and now says its plant could close altogether.

Nadeau contends that Westco and its associates have been allowed to gain control of almost 80 per cent of chickens produced in New Brunswick, contravening the principles of Canada’s supply management system for poultry and defying regulations that had previously limited control of the provincial chicken supply by any one group to 10 per cent.

“If the (provincial) government had not failed in its regulatory role, the chickens would have remained in the province for processing as was intended in a well-managed supply management system,” Nadeau’s general manager Yves Landry said in a release Aug. 31.

New Brunswick’s previous Liberal government had responded to Nadeau’s layoffs in January 2010 with a ministerial order designating Nadeau as the only federally-inspected plant for processing of chickens raised within the province.

However, that order was later invalidated in court and the Liberals were voted out in September last year.

Nadeau in February also proposed a New Brunswick Chicken Marketing Agency that would deal “solely” with the marketing of broiler chickens past the farm gate and would allocate live chicken supply to processors both within and outside New Brunswick, but the province has rejected that idea.

“Can’t grow more”

“The amount of chickens that can be grown in New Brunswick is restricted, so we can’t simply grow more chickens,” Landry said last week.

Once the Sunnymel plant is built, he added, “there will be insufficient supply of New Brunswick grown chickens and the two plants will be forced to seek birds from other provinces.”

Processors, he said, will “aggressively fight for supply outside of their own borders offering premium payments to entice growers,” in turn setting off price wars, meaning the consumer will ultimately pay more at the counter.

“Building a second plant by trying to close another business is not economic development, it’s job transfer at best and creates downstream chaos in the industry,” Landry said. “We need a solution now that returns a fair share of New Brunswick chickens to our existing plant if we are to avoid significant extended job losses in our region.”

“Without a predictable supply of chicken, Nadeau Poultry could close,” the company said Aug. 31.

“Without a solution implemented, our employees know that with each passing day, they are getting ever closer to the unemployment line,” Landry said in the release.

Related stories:

Earth turning for contentious N.B. chicken plant, Aug. 30, 2011

N.B. won’t restructure chicken system for Maple Lodge, Feb. 24, 2011

Maple Lodge, farmers plan new N.S. poultry plant, July 14, 2010

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