New Brunswick’s provincial government has temporarily ordered that all chicken produced in the province must be processed at its only federally-inspected poultry plant.
Agriculture Minister Ron Ouellette on Wednesday issued orders directing chicken production to Nadeau Poultry Farm’s plant at St-Francois-de-Madawaska and placing a temporary moratorium on any increases of chicken exports from Ontario and Quebec.
Ouellette’s move follows the proclamation Jan. 4 of amendments to the province’s Natural Products Act. The amendments, passed in June 2009 but not proclaimed until now, are meant to maintain jobs which were to be cut at Nadeau’s facility.
Nadeau, a wing of Ontario meat packer Maple Lodge, has laid off about 165 workers at its St-Francois plant near Edmundston in the province’s northwest. The layoffs follow Nadeau losing a key supply of domestically produced birds when New Brunswick poultry producer Groupe Westco moved to process New Brunswick birds outside the province.
“I did this for New Brunswick workers affected by the instability of the chicken processing industry in Canada,” Ouellette said in a release Wednesday.
Ouellette’s move stems from a September 2009 decision by Westco and Quebec packer Olymel to build a $30 million joint-venture poultry slaughter and processing plant at nearby Clair, N.B.
While that project is under construction, the two firms’ previously-signed partnership agreement calls for Westco’s member farmers to deliver their birds to Olymel slaughter plants in Quebec.
Westco’s arrangement with Olymel freezes out Nadeau, which previously handled Westco farms’ birds. Angered Nadeau workers reacted in September by blockading Westco trucks hauling to an Olymel plant at Berthierville, Que.
Maple Lodge sought a federal Competition Tribunal order to secure its supply of New Brunswick poultry from Westco. Nadeau, according to Westco and Olymel, had wanted an order compelling Westco to accept a supply agreement to deliver live chickens to Nadeau’s processing plant. The tribunal in June 2009 dismissed that application.
In a separate ruling Aug. 20, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal confirmed a decision by the New Brunswick Farm Products Commission, finding that Westco and other poultry producers are not obliged to allocate a part of their production to Maple Lodge.
Olymel and Westco said they’ve made proposals to Maple Lodge, including an offer to buy its St-Francois plant and a draft agreement on slaughtering at Nadeau’s plant at “fair market value” while the “Sunnymel” facility is built at Clair.
Nadeau then tried to import excess chicken from Ontario and Quebec to its plant, but was thwarted by the Ontario Chicken Board and the Regie des marches agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec, the province said.
The two poultry marketing agencies “have made it impossible for the plant to obtain replacement chicken from those provinces and so (Nadeau hasn’t) been able to re-hire most of the laid-off workers,” Ouellette’s release said Wednesday.
Ouellette cited a recent state-of-the-industry analysis which suggested that ordering chicken produced in New Brunswick to be processed at St-Francois will bring Nadeau’s plant “back to a production level that will warrant the level of employment it had prior to the layoffs.”
Ouellette said his order is “a temporary measure and not my preferred solution to the current state of the chicken processing industry in New Brunswick.
“This is a commercial dispute between two companies and I urge them to come to the table, do the responsible thing, and find a long-term solution for the workers and the industry.”
Responses from Westco and Olymel weren’t immediately available Wednesday, but Westco CEO Thomas Soucy in June called Ouellette’s planned amendments “the equivalent of the nationalization of New Brunswick’s poultry industry in order to protect the province’s only slaughterhouse, to the detriment of all agricultural labourers.
“We will not let them get away with this,” Soucy said in a Westco release last June, adding that the province’s plan “does not measure all the consequences of this measure, and exceeds, by far, the conflict between our company and the Maple Lodge slaughterhouse.”