by JIM ALGIE
Chicken Farmers of Canada has developed a punch tissue test that could end fraudulent imports of U.S. broiler meat passing as aged hens to avoid border controls, agency Executive Director Mike Dungate said Friday.
First identified in 2011, the practice allows imports of prime broiler meat by passing it off as “spent fowl” product. Spent fowl is the term used to describe laying hens that have outlived their usefulness for egg production.
Unlike broilers, spent fowl and their meat are not subject to control by Canada’s supply-management system for poultry. Huge increases in spent fowl imports, which peaked in 2011, alerted chicken agency officials to strange business at the border.
A 2013 report by Chicken Farmers of Ontario policy analyst James Corpus says 2012 spent fowl imports from the United States exceeded that country’s total spent fowl slaughter. The change in imports actually began as early as 2005, Corpus’s report says.
“Spent fowl imports have gone from being five per cent of domestic chicken production in 2005 to nearly 11 per cent in 2012,” Corpus said. “In percentage terms, spent fowl imports in 2012 are 124 per cent higher than 2005 volumes while regulated chicken production in 2012 is about six per cent higher,” he said.
Dungate described the trend, Friday, as a “clear indication of fraud.” Although he wasn’t pointing a finger at potential culprits, Dungate did say it deeply complicates planning for domestic production.
Spent fowl imports peaked in 2011 at 100 million kilograms, about 10 per cent of the Canadian chicken market, Dungate said. Dropping numbers in late 2013 and early 2014 had some people thinking the problem had passed.
“But it started building through 2014 and ended up 2014 at about 81 million kilograms,” Dungate said.
That amount might be less than it was four years ago but the disconcerting part, said Dungate, is that more than 60 per cent of it is boneless breast meat. In 2011, by way of contrast, boneless breast meat made up 30 per cent of 100 million kgs.
Chicken Farmers officials and Trent University researchers have developed a tissue punch test for potential use at border crossing points by Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors that could end fraudulent imports, Dungate said.
“The test is very definitive and it can be done on a fairly straightforward basis,” he said. The agency has sought Canadian Border Services Agency support to conduct a pilot project.
“We’re not trying to thicken the border and delay shipments. It is not a food safety issue. If we could test at the border, the shipment goes ahead,” Dungate said.
Subsequent proof of fraud results in tariffs owing. With proof of spent hen product, the test has not interfered with legitimate imports, he said.
“It actually does have an impact because we have no idea how much is coming in,” Dungate said of recent spent fowl imports that may mask prime broiler meat. “If it’s actually spent fowl we understand that and it’s destined for a certain part of the market,” he said, referring to the traditional use of such birds in soups and pot pies.
“What we don’t know is if it’s actually spent fowl or it’s broiler chicken because it’s just fraud and it’s going at the main product that we’re trying to produce for consumers,” Dungate said. “It makes it extremely difficult for us to figure out where consumer demand is and whether we’re producing enough or whatever.”
The proposed test requires a small piece of tissue for analysis from fresh, frozen or even cooked product. Dungate described the test as “very definitive.” He also said legitimate U.S. producers of spent fowl are supportive of the CFC plan for border testing.
“We’ve worked with the U.S. industry and the legitimate players . . . are on board. Those are the legitimate spent fowl guys because they see their market being compromised as well,” Dungate said. BF