Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) chairman Dave Fuller warned producers at the Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia (CFNS) annual meeting that now is not the time for complacency in the Canadian chicken industry.
“We have done amazing things in the last three decades. We’ve gone from a per capita consumption of roughly 14 kilograms per person to 31. We’ve gone from a 14 per cent market share of meat protein to 34 per cent,” Fuller said.
Canada’s chicken producers have also created a food safety program to ensure they are growing a safe product for consumers and, he continued, an animal care program that shows their industry’s high standards of on-farm animal care.
But Fuller said that doesn’t mean the industry should relax. It needs to set the stage now for a discussion of the future challenges it will face. “One of those challenges is to grow the market. Not just to grow it but to do it efficiently and profitably.”
“The past few years have seen production surge past the one billion kilogram mark, but then plateau. We need to take the bar and raise it even higher. We need to get more consumers interested in our product, or at least get them interested enough to choose it more often,” he said.
The CFC is also examining growing the chicken farmers’ market share among the available meat sources, he said. “We have to deliver into our competitors’ market.”
Building that market share will require the chicken industry to establish a consensus on the industry’s important issues, stated Fuller. “One of our biggest issues right now is antimicrobial resistance.”
“As an industry we have been ahead of this issue for a long time . . . despite efforts to make it look like it’s been a surprise. Antimicrobial use and resistance has been a critical priority of Chicken Farmers of Canada for several years.”
But CFC has been “putting out fires” on the AMU/AMR issue of late, he said. The most recent flare-up was a report by the CBC Marketplace program saying two-thirds of the samples of chicken it bought in Canadian supermarkets, when tested, contained antimicrobial resistant bacteria.
In response to consumer concerns, he said CFC has a five-point action plan to address the issues, consisting of:
- Implementation of an On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Program to standardize on-farm food safety production practices;
- Funding research to examine antimicrobial resistance and alternatives to antibiotic use;
- Establishment of a working group of industry stakeholders to examine ways to reduce antibiotic use;
- Education of consumers on the safe handling and cooking of chicken; and
- Working co-operatively with the Canadian Integrated Program for Anti-microbial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Since 2002, the federal government has done antibiotic resistance surveillance at the retail and processing levels. Fuller said CFC is working with the federal government to finalize a new protocol for an on-farm surveillance program to monitor on-farm levels of antibiotic resistance to pinpoint potential resistance sources and develop mitigating policies and procedures. “We need to know if we’re contributing to the problem.”
He urged producers to volunteer for the monitoring program. “We can’t do it without your help.”
With producers picking up the challenge of on-farm surveillance it will help frame future steps to deal with the resistance issue. “We need to take ourselves out of the equation. That is why we are opening our doors to the Public Health Agency of Canada,” he said.
CFC is also evaluating the practices of chicken producers in other countries, said Fuller. “We need to take more steps and we must do it now. This issue is far from over and we need to take this seriously. If the consumers turn off chicken; we will all be worse off.”
Meanwhile, across Canada, OFFSAP is now at 97 –per cent producer certification, with New Brunswick the eighth province to sign on, and CFC is now waiting for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador to complete the process, said Mike Dungate, CFC general manager, who also reported that in just its first year the CFC Animal Care Program has received a 25 –per cent sign-on from Canadian chicken farmers.
Shelley Acker, CFNS general manager, said in her report to the CFNS annual meeting that staff are working to get regulatory changes to approve mandatory OFFSAP. Both it and the Animal Care Program will come to Nova Scotia. “We are closer than ever in getting this project certified,” she said.