Pluck Shops Threatened by Poultry Meat Imports

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - Imports of poultry meat, particularly leg quarters, may spell the end for traditional pluck shops.
calendar icon 4 June 2009
clock icon 5 minute read

President of the Central Pluck Shop Association, Rasheed Karim – a second generation poultry farmer himself – fears that the importation of chicken meat, particularly leg quarters, into Trinidad and Tobago, may eventually obliterate the pluck shop industry, reports Trinidad Express.

"I believe that in a little while, maybe two to three years the pluck shop industry might be dead. Very soon Trinidad will end up like Tobago. At one time Tobago had about ten or 12 pluck shops, but with the importation of chicken there are no more depots in Tobago," said Mr Karim during a phone interview with the newspaper last week.

Mr Karim's concerns may be understandable, since the poultry industry has made a significant contribution to the livelihood of low income communities.

Data compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that imported chicken from the United States to Trinidad and Tobago has increased from 1.523 tonnes in 2004 to more than 14.142 tonnes in 2008.

Statistics show that local consumers love chicken meat, after all, figures reveal that 85 per cent of all meats consumed is chicken, the share of poultry farming in the total gross value of agricultural output is largest in Trinidad & Tobago at 60 per cent and the per capita consumption of broiler meat is 36 to 38 kilogrammes per person per year.

Chicken prices at local depots have flown high and low over the past 12 months.

Pluck shops have retailed chicken as high as $7 per pound but within recent months, they have had to drop their prices to around $5 per pound to keep up with the imported chicken parts.

The president of the Poultry Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Robin Phillips, says the preference by US consumers for breast and wing products has created a large stock of residual by-product leg quarters (drum sticks and thighs), which are exported and sold at heavily discounted or 'fire-sale' prices and this, in turn has caused economic injury to the local poultry industry.

Executive director of the Caribbean Poultry Association, Dr Desmond Ali, agrees.

"Small service food establishments are now being serviced from the larger importers who are now bringing in leg quarters so a lot of those leg quarters are supplanting the fresh product that the cottage processors would previously have supplied to the small restaurants of the district," he said.

Addressing the issue of the amount of chicken that is imported into the country, Mr Phillips said chicken stock held by local processors was at an all-time high.

"It's a significant amount of chicken that is now impacting upon us. All our cold storage is full, the producers are actually renting external cold storage to store chicken in Trinidad which is something we haven't done in five or six years and of course that will be at an additional cost to us," he added.

Both Mr Phillips and Dr Ali are concerned that the problem will only be exacerbated as certain countries are moving towards poultry self sufficiency.

Citing an international poultry web site, the report continues, 'Russia is spending billions of dollars on the development of the local poultry industry as the demand for chicken increases. This expansion could halve the share of imports in Russian poultry consumption by 2012 and push the US$55 billion US poultry sector to seek alternative markets.'

Mr Phillips admitted that the importation of chicken has placed the local poultry industry on a 'slippery slope' but he adds that it's not too late for the Government to intervene.

More than a week ago, Mr Phillips said he wrote to the Ministry of Trade and Industry highlighting the ramifications of the importation of chicken.

He told Business Express during an interview at Arawak Farms at Mausica last week that the ministry promised to look into the matter.

Mr Phillips also suggests that the surcharge on imported chicken be reinstated and reviewed when the supply of chicken internationally regularises.

"A lot of Central and Latin American countries have put in special tariffs to deal with America's leg quarters because it's a worldwide problem, because they sell it so cheap," he said.

Pluck shop owner, Mr Karim, believes that government should reduce taxes on grains, medication for poultry and on farm equipment, thereby making it easier for local producers to compete with the large importers.

Dr Ali said in light of the strong foothold large importers of chicken have in this country, it is paramount that government protect the local industry.

"The poultry industry provides employment but most importantly it provides a high level of food security and because of those two things, every country in the world that has a poultry industry must go to extreme lengths to defend the poultry industry, largely because of the issue of food security," he told Trinidad Express.

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