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Urban Cowboy: Chicken legs its way onto more consumer plates

A new report from Statistics Canada, citing the latest information available (from 2015), says that for the first time, Canadian per capita consumption passed 70 lbs. That’s up almost two pounds over the previous year, which is huge in the commodity world. Overall, we’re now eating almost twice as much chicken as we did in 1980
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Graham Pelley - Chickery
Chicken is a hot commodity with consumers. Chef Graham Pelley of The Chickery is pictured here with a fresh rotisserie skewer of local Maple Lodge chicken. Photo by Owen Roberts for GuelphToday.

Chicken farmers have had the boots put to them lately by some activists who claim they have secret footage of animal abuse on a Canadian chicken farm. This is any livestock producer’s worst nightmare, and taints the sector as a nasty source of food. Consumers abhor animal abuse, and rightly so.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) looked into it, and on Thursday, they pushed back.

First, they challenged the claim that the incident took place in Canada.

“We believe that this video footage isn't from a Canadian chicken farm and appears to be recycled from previous propaganda campaigns that have taken place in other countries,” says the organization’s chair Benoit Fontaine.

Then he went on.

“Animal activists have also been using questionable information to fuel their campaigns and push an agenda to eliminate animal agriculture and shutter Canadian farms,” he said. “These tactics are shameful, inaccurate, deliberately misleading, and undermine the hard work and animal welfare standards of local Canadian farmers throughout the country . . . there is zero tolerance for animal abuse.”

For the past several years, the entire Canadian livestock sector has been torqueing up its animal welfare practices. It’s been working with institutions such as the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph, to address consumers’ concerns about confined housing for farm animals and certain handling and transportation practices.

For its part, the CFC has been administering a national animal care program on all 2,800 broiler chicken farms across Canada since 2009. The implementation of that program by farmers and the effectiveness of CFC's audit team are now subject to an annual third-party audit.

Such animal care efforts are striking a chord with mainstream Canada, if you accept chicken consumption is at least somewhat of an indicator of consumer contentment.

A new report from Statistics Canada, citing the latest information available (from 2015), says that for the first time, Canadian per capita consumption passed 70 lbs. That’s up almost two pounds over the previous year, which is huge in the commodity world.

Overall, we’re now eating almost twice as much chicken as we did in 1980. It’s become the leading dinner choice – at home or in restaurants -- for Canadians.

The restaurant trade has embraced it. Most fast food is chicken. And with meals purchased outside the home commanding more and more of the food dollar – about 35-40 per cent now – chicken also has a growing presence on menus.

Food labelling is becoming a bigger deal with consumers, too. More than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from, and how it’s raised or grown.

The chicken farmers realize these imperatives. Their research shows more than 85 per cent of Canadian shoppers think it’s important that the chicken they buy is raised in Canada. About the same number says they would be more likely to buy chicken if it had a label showing that their chicken is Canadian raised. In response, the chicken farmers developed a branding program called Raised by a Canadian Farmer. You’ve likely seen it in grocery stores and some restaurants.

A food, beverage and agricultural marketing group called Nourish Marketing says branding and information is what consumers want.

“You need to tell them how it’s made, where it comes from and what is in it - transparency is critical,” says Nourish.

They call it culinary confidence.

I believe the chicken industry is confident in its product, and I’m glad to see it’s pushed back against activists. I also believe animal welfare is one of the top priorities for all farmers – not treating their livestock well is like sabotaging their own business. Why would they do that?




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