A Chilliwack poultry farmer is among producers across Canada upset about cheap Hungarian ducks they say are being dumped on the domestic market with inadequate oversight by the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Ken Falk of Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry in Yarrow says the CFIA is not addressing the problem, which is leaving consumers to unwittingly purchasing meat with unknown origins and processing, all while leaving Canadian producers to lose market share.
“We are just so frustrated,” Falk told The Progress.
|Packaging on a duck from Hungary (left) and from Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry in Yarrow. Feathers are visible in the Hungarian duck, and the label advises that the “product should be heated thoroughly before consumption.” (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)|
Speaking with him at his Yarrow operation, Falk shows a frozen Hungarian duck purchased at a Lower Mainland store. There are feathers visible, something no Canadian producer would allow. When defrosted, Falk said the Hungarian ducks have lungs and glands intact, also not permitted in Canada.
And the labelling has an almost comical description of how to cook the bird: “Product should be heated thoroughly before consumption.”
“Hungary seems to be not too worried about quality,” Falk said. “You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag.”
Canadian duck producers are also raising the alarm about other issues: what veterinary medicines are used in Hungary; possible animal abuse; and labour standards where employees earn as little as $3 an hour.
“We are not worried about fair competition,” Falk insists. “But you are allowing this garbage product to come in to Canada.”
The “you” in that statement that is so frustrating Falk is the CFIA who he insists is not protecting consumers and not enforcing food safety laws.
Asked about the issue, a CFIA spokesperson said that since January 2019, importers must hold a “Safe Food for Canadians” licence and ensure imports meet Canadian requirements.
In response, Falk said that is a complaints based system so there is no real prevention, only reaction.
The problem for Canadian duck farmers is that this has been going on for several years, and Falk says only in 2016 when they “screamed” at the government did anything happen.
“In 2017, CFIA conducted an inspection of Hungarian duck meat establishments and found that the inspection system and veterinary drug residue verifications in Hungary were equivalent to the Canadian system,” the CFIA told The Progress.
“Interesting that they are using the word ‘inspection’ here,” Falk responded. “The word they used to us was ‘visit’, saying that they cannot inspect foreign facilities.”
On the quality of the imported ducks, the CFIA when problems are found, Hungarian authorities are notified.
“CFIA’s data and verifications shows that duck meat from Hungary has a high level of compliance, with a few deviations which CFIA has signalled to the Hungarian authorities and requested corrective actions.”
Again, Falk questions the choice of word such as “deviations” and “minor corrective actions” as being insufficient to deal with the potential problems.
When asked to comment, the CFIA said nothing about feathers, labelling, employment standards, or animal welfare.
For years the Quebec Association of Duck and Goose Breeders (AECOQ) has criticized the rules applied in Hungary and the difference for those breeding and processing in Canada.
“The number of products that do not meet Canadian standards can be found in alarming quantities in Canadian markets,” according to an AECOQ press release.
“No Canadian product with this amount of defect could have reached the grocery store shelves.”
As for Falk, he is frustrated as a business owner being undercut by mystery meat being allowed into Canada, and he implores Canadians to shop locally where standards are strict.
“Canada is just accepting the European Union’s word for it but if nobody is watching what is going on, what can we expect to find in Canada?”
Falk said that buying local food as much as possible is a good response to the Hungarian duck issue. The B.C. government declared Dec. 2 to 8 as BC Buy Local Week.