My visit to a chicken farm in Saint-Hyacinthe this week made me gag. It is not the strong smell of manure that is the cause, but rather the idea of seeing thousands of chickens around me ending up in a garbage bag.
In a huge farm building, I saw a white carpet of 60,000 inanimate chickens. Tractors equipped with a shovel loaded large trucks to transport the carcasses for incineration. I was politely asked not to take any photos of this unbearable scene to watch.
In a wealthy society like Quebec, in 2021, we can afford to throw half a million chickens in the garbage per week. We live in such abundance that this situation hardly moves anyone!
The newspaper and TVA Nouvelles were the first to document, last week, the disastrous consequences of the labor dispute at the Exceldor slaughterhouse in Saint-Anselme, near Lévis. My colleague Francis Halin already mentioned, on May 28, that this strike could result in the worst case of food waste in the history of Quebec.
As a reminder, the Exceldor plant processes an average of one million chickens per week. Its temporary closure, due to a strike, has overloaded the other slaughterhouses, which are not meeting demand. Result: Quebec breeders are grappling with mature chickens and they have no other choice but to asphyxiate them and send them to the knacker, who will incinerate a good part of them. We plan to euthanize 400,000 chickens per week.
“I went from being proud to feed Quebecers to a certain shame. It’s shameful to waste so much food, ”Alain Bazinet, who raises more than 100,000 chickens on his farm in Saint-Hyacinthe, told me in tears. The latter was forced to euthanize more than 60,000 poultry this week. He asks the government to intervene to force a return to work at the slaughterhouse and limit the damage.
On the show To your business, the Minister of Agriculture, André Lamontagne, said that he had “a lot of empathy for all poultry farmers”. “It’s something I’ve been seeing coming for quite some time,” he explained to me this week. So why such a carelessness? There is an emergency, right?
Strike at Exceldor
Let us not put the blame entirely on the backs of the 600 union members on strike. They are making legitimate demands, including that of taking two consecutive weeks of vacation after a year of pandemic where they put their lives at risk in a risky environment. Their bosses at Exceldor are offering wage increases of 18% over six years, while the union is demanding 40% more over three years. The gap is huge.
Minister Lamontagne appealed to the “civic sense” of both parties to prevent the labor dispute from degenerating and causing a shortage of chickens in Quebec. Presumably, this is nowhere near enough to solve the problem.
On the one hand, the government is spending millions on advertising campaigns to make Quebeckers aware of waste and, on the other, we are turning a blind eye to hundreds of tonnes of chickens thrown in the garbage. Find the error !
A land of plenty
I spent several weeks of my teenage years traveling the poor neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic on humanitarian trips. There, the chicken is a precious animal.
Early in the morning, near the slums of San Pedro de Macoris, the roosters in the backyards woke us up. When we live in daily food insecurity, it is a reassuring song! This is a sign that we will be able to eat, in the evening, a chicken thigh accompanied by a salted plantain mash.
In Quebec, 500,000 chickens are euthanized in a week, they are thrown in the trash and no one reacts, apart from the St-Hubert restaurants, which are worried about their menu. We can understand the shame our breeders feel.