Liberals nix summer meetings on import issues hurting ag

A federal opposition effort to force the House of Commons’ international trade committee to sit during the summer over Canadian agriculture border issues — including diafiltered milk and spent fowl — has failed.

Committee members were summoned back to Ottawa Aug. 3 at the request of Conservative MP Randy Hoback, a demand that was backed by fellow Conservatives Gerry Ritz and Dave Van Kesteren and the NDP.

On the agenda: the Canadian Border Services Agency’s Duties Deferral Program, diafiltered milk and spent fowl, which are border issues that producers say are undermining Canadian agriculture’s competitiveness.

“This (spent fowl) is an issue that has been going on for some time and consultations seem to be going on and on,” Hoback told the committee.

“Consultations are being used to defer making a decision. We need to show action on this. Put yourself in the farmer’s shoes. You’re in a highly regulated sector. You’re relying on the government to enforce those rules. And, when they’re letting you down and it’s costing you money and your wallet is getting thinner and thinner … I’m sorry, we can’t wait for new ideas. We need action now.”

Canadian chicken farmers are ruffled over increased spent fowl from the United States.

While the industry accepts that spent fowl (meat that comes from old laying hens) is a legitimate tariff classification, stakeholders say the Americans are using the designation to import broiler meat, which is undermining Canada’s supply management system.

Figures from Chicken Farmers of Canada show that Canadian imports of spent fowl in May were higher than total U.S. slaughter production levels of the meat (111 per cent). Similar figures were expected for June imports.

The figures were calculated by looking at total U.S. production, while ensuring that cuts such as breasts and wings are not double counted. CFC officials have said they consider the 111 percent to a be a conservative estimate.

With so much poultry coming across the border, Canadian chicken farmers want the federal government to adopt a DNA test developed by researchers at Trent University that can clearly distinguish spent fowl from broiler meat — a distinction that is impossible to make visually.

The call for the DNA test has been backed publicly by Conservative Senator Percy Mockler, who chairs the Senate’s agriculture committee.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has said the test is being considered but has not said whether it will be implemented.

At the Aug. 3 meeting, officials from CBSA said the DNA test, which industry first brought to Ottawa’s attention in 2014, was being considered with an investigation into its accuracy ongoing.

They stressed that the test must be “reliable” because decisions could be appealed to the international trade tribunal or the courts.

Officials said it must also be “feasible at the border.” Testing every shipment would be challenging given the sheer volume of chicken coming in, meaning the department would have to do spot checks.

CBSA officials stressed repeatedly the department was taking the spent fowl issue “seriously.”

After the meeting, former Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz admitted both spent fowl and diafiltered milk were files were on his desk when he was minister.

However, Ritz insisted a clear plan of attack, particularly for spent fowl, had been developed by officials, which laid out firm timelines. No such timelines, Ritz said, have been given by the Liberals.

As for the delay with the DNA test, Ritz said part of the hold-up came because of its originality. No other test of its kind exists, he said, which made it difficult to peer review the research.

A Conservative motion asking for the committee to sit for two additional meetings on the border issues in August, including appearances from industry officials and several Liberal cabinet ministers, failed during an in camera vote. The committee will resume sitting Sept. 20.

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