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Poultry partners rip N.B. order as “illegal”

A ministerial order directing all poultry produced in New Brunswick to be processed at Maple Lodge’s Nadeau Poultry Farm facility is seen as a “clearly illegal” attempt to block interprovincial trade.

New Brunswick poultry producer Groupe Westco — which plans to build a $30 million poultry slaughterhouse and processing plant at Clair, N.B. in a joint venture with Quebec meat packer Olymel — says it has rulings from the federal Competition Bureau and New Brunswick Court of Appeal to back up its claim.

“Westco is thus of the opinion that it can in no way be obliged to comply with the order, and considers that the decision by the New Brunswick government is invalid and unconstitutional,” the company said in a release Thursday, the day after Agriculture Minister Ron Ouellette announced his order.

In the release, Westco CEO Thomas Soucy said last year’s rulings from the Competition Bureau and appeal court “recognized our right to sell our chickens however we wished, and to engage in interprovincial trade. It is unfortunate and regrettable to note that the government nevertheless persists in trying to prevent us from doing so.”

Ouellette’s order, backed up by new amendments to the province’s Natural Products Act, directs New Brunswick’s chicken production to the Nadeau plant at St-Francois-de-Madawaska, near Edmundston. It also slaps a temporary moratorium on any increases of chicken exports from Ontario and Quebec.

“I did this for New Brunswick workers affected by the instability of the chicken processing industry in Canada,” Ouellette said Wednesday.

Nadeau said it laid off about 165 workers at the St-Francois plant after it lost a key supply of domestically produced birds, when Westco moved to process New Brunswick birds outside the province.

Westco said the Competition Bureau’s June 8 ruling confirms the company’s right to sell its chickens to its chosen buyer, and that it’s “under no obligation” to supply Nadeau.

As well, Westco said, the provincial Court of Appeal’s Aug. 20 judgment upheld a New Brunswick Farm Products Commission decision to the effect that neither Westco nor any other producer was required to transfer any part of its production to Nadeau Maple Lodge.”

Furthermore, Westco alleges Ouellette’s claim of protecting jobs “is based on an inflated number of job losses” and that “several dozen” of its employees have been recalled since the layoffs were announced last fall.

Westco and Olymel’s partnership agreement had called for Westco’s member farmers to deliver their birds to Olymel slaughter plants in Quebec. Angry Nadeau workers reacted in September by blocking Westco trucks hauling birds to an Olymel plant at Berthierville, Que.

Business proposal

In “coming days,” Westco said Thursday, it will submit a business proposal to Nadeau and the province that will keep poultry processing temporarily in New Brunswick while the new “Sunnymel” plant at nearby Clair is under construction.

“In addition, discussions between Westco, Sunnymel and Nadeau Maple Lodge will be necessary, since the ministerial order is silent on several important points,” Westco said.

Westco said it has tried to reach an agreement with Nadeau since last summer and even agreed to provincial mediation, but Nadeau “rejected all the proposals that would have enabled it to continue processing Westco chickens.”

A “number of steps” have already been completed in the last few months as the construction work at Clair moves ahead, Westco said Thursday.

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