Consumers of kosher chickens have waited patiently for a made-in-Ontario alternative to the Quebec-sourced poultry supplied by Marvid Poultry. It looks like they’ll have to wait a little while longer.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Premier Kosher Inc. is expected to begin production of kosher chickens this fall, though it is still waiting to meet federal licensing requirements.
In an email correspondence with The CJN, the ministry stated: “Ministry staff and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission are monitoring developments with the company. The plant has targeted an opening date of fall 2017.”
The ministry was responding to a series of questions from The CJN, following this newspaper’s repeated efforts to seek comments from Paul Tzellos, owner of Premier Kosher.
After being granted the right to produce kosher chickens in March 2016 by Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO), the agency that oversees the production and marketing of chickens in the province, Tzellos said he expected to have the plant up and running by January 2017.
When that deadline came and went, he suggested contacting him in March for an update. Despite repeated calls and emails from The CJN, at that time and afterwards, Tzellos was silent about plans to re-introduce Ontario-sourced kosher chickens to the market – until Sept. 7, when he said he would answer questions, but not until after our deadline. That was one day after The CJN received a comment from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture explaining the delay and pointing out that Premier Kosher was eligible to receive nearly $500,000 to upgrade its processing plant in Abingdon, Ont.
Despite numerous attempts, Tzellos did not respond to The CJN’s questions prior to deadline.
In its emailed comments, the Agriculture Ministry stated that, “The Ontario government is committed to supporting a diverse, local food supply for the benefit of consumers and the province’s agri-food sector.
“The government makes strategic investments and provides resources to help keep Ontario’s agri-food sector competitive, create good jobs in communities across the province and support a value chain that benefits Ontario farmers, food processors and consumers.
“That’s why the province has committed up to $490,000 to help Premier Kosher Inc. retrofit its Abingdon, Ont., facility with specialty processing equipment for processing kosher chicken. These investments will help support 80 full-time jobs once operations begin.
“The ministry understands there has been a delay in the opening of the plant, as it works to become a federally certified processing plant.
“As the plant will be federally licensed, further questions should be directed to the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).”
Responding to inquiries from The CJN, CFIA media relations spokesperson Maria Kubacki said, “The CFIA is aware of the facility and is working with the company on the process to register the facility and licence the operator. This process can be lengthy.”
While the CFIA’s mandate does not include inspecting the ritual slaughter aspect of the plant, “any federally registered and licensed poultry slaughter establishment where the operator chooses to ritually slaughter chickens must at all times meet all food safety and animal welfare requirements,” she stated.
According to the provincial Agriculture Ministry, “In May 2016, Premier Kosher Inc. was approved for up to $490,000 in funding under the Rural Economic Development (RED) program.
“To date, the province has not provided the full amount committed. RED is a reimbursement-based program, meaning the province only makes payments once respective costs are incurred and paid for by the recipient,” the ministry stated.
Whether Premier Kosher opens for business in the fall remains to be seen. The kosher chicken story in Ontario has been one marked by long delays.
Up until May 2013, Chai Poultry had supplied kosher chickens, but that ended when the Toronto-based company sold its production quota to a halal producer.
Marvid, a Quebec-based company, stepped into the breach and started shipping poultry to Ontario, but many consumers felt their product was inferior, often in short supply and more costly.
In 2014, CFO solicited bids for Ontario-based kosher chicken production.
Under Canada’s supply management system, suppliers must obtain an allotment of chickens from CFO before they can produce poultry for the retail market.
At the time, CFO spokesperson Michael Edmonds said he expected production to begin by the end of the year.
Seven groups entered bids. That number was reduced to three, but eventually, all withdrew.
The process was re-opened and in March 2016, Premier Kosher was granted the allotment. Tzellos has a long history in the poultry industry. Premier Kosher is a unit of the Premier Group of Companies, which is “an integrated poultry growing, transporting and food processing firm.”
Two months later, Premier was approved for the $490,000 grant.