Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Levy wants brakes on chicken imports

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Agriculture minister Derrick Kellier (left), Robert Levy (right), chairman of the Jamaica Broilers Group of Companies, and state minister Luther Buchanan discuss the day-old chicken during Tuesday’s tour and official opening of the Cumberland Hatchery in Portmore, St Catherine. Also sharing in the occasion is Dermon Spence, chief technical director in the agriculture ministry.

Chairman of the Jamaica Broilers Group Robert Levy has charged agriculture minister Derrick Kellier to put the brakes on the importation of chicken parts, warning that opening even a small import window could have disastrous consequences for the local industry.

"America would never allow it. They would let the people go short. I implore you, sir, that you hold fast and realise that opening the market can be a floodgate to really negatively affect the industry," Levy said in a public appeal on Tuesday. "I implore you, sir, hold the rein as soon as we see the market filled." He was addressing the official opening of the Best Dressed Chicken Cumberland Hatchery in Portmore, St Catherine.

RAMPING UP PRODUCTION

Acknowledging that Kellier had in fact held discussions with industry stakeholders, relative to the decision to grant licences for the importation of four containers of leg quarters over the next five weeks, Levy noted that the temporary importation could have far-reaching consequences.

The Jamaica Broilers Group chairman cited the case of the United States, which does not allow any import of chicken or chicken parts, no matter how severe the shortage or how high prices soar, and urged the minister to follow that example, in defending the local industry.

Formerly owned by the now defunct Jamaican Livestock Association, the 25,000 square-foot hatchery with a capacity to produce 625,000 chicks per month, or 7.5 million per year, was brought back into operation under a long-term lease agreement. It will provide employment for 22 persons and is projected to contribute 15 per cent of the group's overall chick production at full capacity.

The decision by the agriculture minister to grant the import licences was in response to the overwhelming demand for chicken meat over the Christmas season, and which has continued into the year, despite Jamaica Broilers and Caribbean Broilers ramping up production in anticipation of the annual increase. Industry players have been unable to explain the increased demand carryover but are taking steps to address it.

Jamaica Broilers, which has an estimated 60 per cent of market share, has agreed to place an additional 50,000 chicks per week into production this week, and Kellier advised that he was to hold talks with Caribbean Broilers (40 per cent market share) with a view to increasing their production to meet a similar target. However, he did not provide any details on that arrangement.

Kellier told The Gleaner the decision to grant import licences was an interim measure arrived at after extensive discussion with industry players, with the agriculture ministry also doing its own research, which supports the view that even with both companies boosting production, there would still be a noticeable shortage on the market.