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Cheaper, but not sweeter - Local producers cannot match imported chicken back price

Published:Sunday | November 2, 2014 | 11:00 AM
Keith Amiel
Christopher Levy
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Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

While November has been designated Eat Jamaican Month by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in collaboration with the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), scores of Jamaicans continue to turn to the imported chicken back as the cheapest form of protein for their daily meals.

And the two major poultry companies in Jamaica which have endorsed the 'Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow … Agriculture Going for Growth' theme for the month accept that they cannot compete on price with the imported chicken back.

Local chicken back now retails for an average of $148 per pound, while the imported one can be found in shops for as little as $75 per pound.

Jamaica Broilers and Caribbean Broilers last week pointed to several factors as they explained why locally produce poultry is more expensive than that imported into the island.

According to Christopher Levy, president and chief executive officer of Jamaica Broilers and managing director of Best Dressed Foods, it is not for lack of efficiency on the part of local producers why their prices are not as competitive as some of their international counterparts.

"In Jamaica, in terms of the production of poultry, our efficiencies can compare to anywhere in the world," declared Levy.

"You have some inherent costs. You're moving grain down here, so you cannot compare grain cost to a man who is living in the grain belt.

"When you look at how much animal feed it takes to make a pound of chicken meat, we are as competitive as anybody in the world. When you look at our performances in our processing plants, our yields are as competitive. Our birds are as competitive. But there are some handicaps in Jamaica, which are just the reality of the situation and that is some of what we are facing," added Levy.

HANDICAPS

Dr Keith Amiel, manager of corporate affairs, Caribbean Broilers Group, also pointed to the handicaps that local producers face.

"We buy grain on the international market using tremendous expertise; there are buyers here and in the United States who represents us. We have computers that monitor the fair rates of the Chicago Board of Trade continuously in all our offices, so at any second, we know the forecast and futures for corn, soya bean and wheat, and we buy at the best rates.

"Because we don't grow it, we have to make sure that we forward-buy to ensure that we have it. So there is always going to be this delayed effect between when the inputs change; corn, soya bean and wheat and when the public sees adjustment in prices," said Amiel.

He further argued that the mark-up added by the various supermarkets increases the price to Jamaicans.

"What happens is that the supermarkets, because utility bills are high, add 30 to 40 per cent for carrying the products in their deep freezers and refrigerators and paying their cashiers, and then they add on another 20 per cent on top of that so in the supermarket you are looking at in the region of 50 per cent more than the original production cost."

The monthlong Eat Jamaica campaign is aimed at re-establishing the fact that this is an agricultural country while celebrating the glories of Jamaican cuisine culture.

This month marks the 11th anniversary of the 'Eat What We Grow … Grow What We Eat' campaign, which was launched by the JAS in 1993.

But still at least 20 per cent of the just over 4.4 million pounds of chicken eaten locally each week is imported. Chicken accounts for 85 per cent of the meat consumed on the island weekly.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com