New plant boosts confidence among chicken producers

Chicken producers in Ontario – Canada’s largest poultry producing province - are applauding Maple Leaf Foods’ decision to build a $660-million fresh poultry processing plant  in London. 

Ontario's poultry producers say the announcement of the new Maple Leaf Foods poultry processing facility in London, Ont. is a big boost to their sector.

They say it gives more confidence to their already robust sector, and believe it has huge implications for agriculture in the province.

“It’s a good decision for farmers, for rural communities and for consumers who want the best chicken in the world,” says Ed Benjamins, chair of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario

“Agriculture is a significant piece of the economy in Ontario, and a new plant like this can have an effect in many places,” Bemjamins says. “With this new plant, chicken farmers will continue to have a good customer for the protein we produce.”

World leader in processing technology

The company expects the 640,000-square-foot plant, which will open in 2021, to be one of the world’s most technologically advanced poultry-processing plants. 

Maple Leaf Foods says it will focus on the highest standards for sustainability, food safety and animal welfare, and will help increase demand for more chicken.

Benjamins says the plant’s emphasis on social responsibility, including humane handling and slaughter, reflects industry's moves towards such technology as modular loading platforms for less stressful transport and atmospheric stunning before processing.

“People are more concerned today about the way birds are raised and looked after,” Benjamins says. “They want them caught, transported and processed as humanely as possible. Retailers are demanding it from processors, and processors are looking to us.”  

Getting ready

Chicken production in Ontario increased 5.2 per cent a year since 2014. Ontario will produce about 560 million kilograms of live chickens in 2018.

About 100 new chicken barns were built in Ontario last year, at an average cost of $1 million each. Benjamins estimates 40 per cent have modular loading platforms.

To be ready to take advantage of the new plant when it opens, Benjamin urges producers to continue introducing such new technology and modern animal welfare- and quality-related practices on their farms.

About 320 of the 1,300 broiler producers in Ontario ship to three Maple Leaf Foods’ processing plants currently, in Toronto, Brampton and St. Marys.

These plants will close when the new facility opens. The company says the existing plants are 50 to 60 years old, and their location, footprint and infrastructure constraints limit opportunities to expand and modernize to meet growing market demand.

Support from provincial and federal governments

The province of Ontario is supporting the new plant with $34.5-million over the next five years. It’s the province’s largest capital investment in the history of Ontario's food processing sector, says Ernie Hardeman, the province’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

The federal government is also contributing $20 million to build the new plant.

Bottom line

Ontario's chicken farmers say a new Maple Leaf Foods fresh chicken processing plant slated for construction in London, Ont. strengthens confidence in their already robust sector. The new facility will focus on high standards for sustainability, food safety and animal welfare.

Article by: Owen Roberts