Alta. chicken producers poised to exit national system

A Feb. 22 deadline has come and gone for Alberta Chicken Producers to withdraw its letter of intent to pull out of the national chicken supply management system without a new agreement being struck.

"We came as close as we could," Chicken Farmers of Canada’s David Janzen said at the Alberta Chicken Producers’ annual general meeting here Feb. 26.

"In the end, we couldn’t reach an agreement."

Alberta wants additional allocation in order to reflect the province’s population increase, but despite years of negotiations — including more talks in early February — the issue couldn’t be resolved.

Reps from from provincial organizations "gave it their best shot," said Janzen, adding it’s time to take a break before heading back to the negotiating table.

"I want to make it crystal clear that CFC is absolutely committed to achieving a solution acceptable to all 10 provinces," he said. "This is not simply an Alberta issue… this is about all 10 provinces agreeing."

Alberta has more than 11 per cent of the population but just 9.15 per cent of chicken production — the gap is equivalent to 16 million kilograms of chicken a year.

Janzen had earlier reminded the crowd about the current negative press supply management has been receiving.

"The problem with internal bickering is it strips us of our credibility," he said.

Proposed compromise

David Hyink, vice-chair of Alberta Chicken Producers and the group’s alternate director to the national body, described the final meeting in Ottawa as "emotional" and said those in attendance did "all they could" to help bring an agreement about.

In the end, Quebec almost supported a proposed compromise, but didn’t. Nova Scotia was the other province that didn’t vote for the proposed deal.

This means the letter of intent to withdraw from the national supply management system at the end of 2013 couldn’t be revoked, Hyink said.

But he said the Alberta Chicken Producers will continue to search for a solution, and agreed with Janzen that a break is needed.

Alberta is now poised to exit the federal-provincial agreement at year’s end. But the next allocation is due to be set in September and Hyink said a solution needs to be found before then.

Even if Dec. 31 passes without a new agreement, there will still be controls in place for matters such as animal care through the province, he added.

"It’s not going to be a free-for-all," Hyink said.

Talks are likely to resume in April or May, said Karen Kirkwood, executive director of the Alberta Chicken Producers.

However, since the letter can no longer be revoked, Alberta will have to be signed back into the national allocation system by provincial agriculture ministers.

— Victoria Paterson is a reporter for Alberta Farmer in Calgary.

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