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Poultry farmers still need answers on TPP impact

Producers are hopeful Canadian consumers will continue to buy their products

Although they’ll have to cope with significantly increased imports if Canada ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Canadian egg, chicken and turkey farmers aren’t calling foul over the extra fowl.

Instead they plan to encourage consumers to shop Canadian because the domestic products don’t cost much more, they come from smaller farms and they are raised under better health conditions than the imports, farm group spokesmen have told the Senate agriculture committee.

It’s not well known “that in order for the U.S. to produce the way it does, it’s done through massive economies of scale,” says Tim Lambert, CEO of Egg Farmers of Canada. “I don’t think Canadians want to buy their food from that kind of massive‑scale production that’s concentrated in a few areas.”

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The average egg farm in Canada has about 22,000 birds compared to 1.5 million birds in the average American flock, he noted. “Just think of the environmental challenges and disease management challenges.

“We have production right across the country in smaller units,” he added. “We have the contribution of rural stability and that local economy of supported feed mills, vet practices and machinery dealerships.

“The impact of having supply management and stable domestic production goes far beyond and far deeper than just the per-unit cost of the product,” he said.

Critics contend that eggs and poultry are more expensive in Canada because of supply. The evidence shows that isn’t always true. “In many cases product in the U.S. is somewhat cheaper; it’s true of most things. We have a different tax structure. We have a health-care system. We have all the things that you know of that benefit us as Canadians.”

Phil Boyd, executive director of Turkey Farmers of Canada, said an analysis of Canadian and American pricing found over the 14‑year time, “Canadian and U.S. prices were in a relevant range of each other, plus or minus a little bit — certainly nothing that would suggest Canadian turkeys were overpriced relative to the United States. In fact, over the 14 years we looked at, Canadians paid five per cent to eight per cent less; so it’s fairly tight. The idea that consumer prices are automatically higher here doesn’t always hold.”

Nobody pays

As for the massive Pacific free trade deal signed in the midst of last year’s election, Dave Janzen, chairman of Chicken Farmers of Canada, told the committee that supply management is always attacked for hiding behind “but nobody pays them.” Canada imported 214 million kilograms of chicken in 2015 and the biggest duty that would have been applied is 5.4 per cent.

The United States and Brazil dominate the international chicken trade. It’s unrealistic to expect Canada to play a significant role in the international chicken trade market. Our climate, with cold winters and warm summers, results in significantly higher production costs that are not incurred in the U.S. and Brazil.

The Canadian chicken industry is working on steady domestic market growth, he said. There are more chicken farms and production has grown steadily, more than 20 per cent in the past 15 years. We have led the agriculture sector on implementing on‑farm food safety, animal care and antibiotic-use reduction programs.

In addition to promises of compensation for lost income caused by the TPP, poultry farmers need the federal government to become serious about “the elimination of the import control circumvention. Three specific measures were announced by the government on Oct. 5 at the conclusion of the TPP negotiations, and it is critical that the government implement them as soon as possible.”

Mark Davies, chairman of Turkey Farmers of Canada, said the TPP offers an important economic opportunity for Canada. “On the positive side for our industry, the final TPP agreement maintains the overquota tariffs currently in place, which provide a fairly high level of assurance that imports of turkey meat in excess of Canada’s minimum access commitments will not occur under normal domestic international conditions.”

However, after 18 years, the access would amount to a 70 per cent increase and amount to about five per cent of current domestic production especially if it’s all breast meat.

“There could be approximately $26,000 in lost farm cash receipts per farm per year if the impact is distributed across the country. It is not a small impact. It should also be noted that our industry does not see any major export opportunities emerging under the TPP despite what some rumours have stipulated over the last few months.”

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