This is not the first time that the Government of Guyana has intervened to address a shortage of poultry meat on the local market by granting licences for the temporary importation of limited quantities of a commodity that has long been an important part of the local diet. Interestingly, chicken is probably one of the significant exceptions to what is widely believed to be a preference among Guyanese for imported foods, the so-called foreign-mindedness in this case being outweighed by a widespread belief that that there may be a health-related downside to imported chicken. Still, once local chicken becomes scarce, chicken lovers appear quite prepared to consume the imported poultry meat.
This time around, as government and poultry producers were bickering over what appears to be a decided lack of transparency in assigning the import licences, President of the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA) Dr Desmond Ali was issuing yet another reminder about the need for the region to restrict chicken imports from the United States. The thrust of Dr Ali’s argument is that much of the poultry meat that is exported from the USA comprises what he describes as “dark meats,” those portions excluding breasts and wings which, he says, are a favoured part of the diet in the US. More than that the CPA Head says that the traditional large importers of chicken from the United States, Russia and China, are – particularly in the case of Russia – reducing their imports considerably so that US poultry producers are ending up with significant quantities of unsold chicken parts which are not favoured among US consumers. The upshot of this, of course, is that markets must be found for these chicken ‘mountains’ and close as we are to the US, the Caribbean is one of the obvious target markets for its excess chicken parts.
Ours, however, is a limited market which means that large quantities of American chicken are stored until they can be sold, a circumstance which, Dr Ali says, causes the region to end up importing “old meat” that would otherwise be consigned to the US “pet food” industry.
Setting aside the possible health implications of consuming imported “old meat”, Dr Ali points to the role which poultry meat imports from the US plays in the retardation of the regional poultry industry. This particular observation applies particularly to Guyana where the number of poultry producers reportedly number in excess of 5,000 large, medium and small scale operators some of whom have been making dissenting noises in the wake of last week’s announcement that chicken is to be imported to make up for what we are told is a temporary shortage.
Whether or not Dr Ali’s recent observations have registered with the authorities here is difficult to say. What has certainly happened is that while the government has proffered a reason (increased poultry meat consumption in the mining communities) for its decision to approve short-term import licences, the manner in which it has been done has raised questions as to whether it has not simply granted favoured importers an opportunity to make a quick killing in the face of the shortage. The other issue (which the Stabroek Business has alluded to in this issue) is whether or not we may not see the temporary import approval extended beyond September in the event that we are confronted with the customary Christmas shortage.
One wonders whether a point has not now been reached where we ought to begin to consider – as a measure to drastically reduce if not eradicate altogether the importation of US chicken parts – significantly increased duties on chicken imports as Mexico and Canada have done specifically to discourage the importation of chicken imports from the US. Discouraging such imports would remove the accusations of favouring certain importers. More than that such a measure would certainly go a long way towards addressing Dr Ali’s “old meat” argument; an argument which has not been given nearly sufficient consideration by the authorities here.
Poultry rearing has, over the years, become one of the more popular entrepreneurial pursuits in the small business sector and periodic interventions by government to authorize the importation of cheaper chicken imports – to say nothing about the lack of transparency in the allocation of the import licenses – will understandably give rise to concern in the local industry. More than that we have been told for the past three years or so that Guyana may be on the threshold of becoming a net exporter of chicken though sorry little evidence has been forthcoming to support that claim.
Whatever it takes to move the industry to a stage where these periodic shortages do not arise, it certainly appears that there is need for far more dialogue between government and the local poultry industry to enable the industry to produce more.
That apart, since the periodic chicken shortage appears likely to be with us for some time, the time is right for a public education programme which persuades us to adjust our taste away from a permanent diet of poultry meat and begin to recognize the virtues of options like fish which, apart from being no less healthy and nutritious, is another equally important local industry that is no less deserving of vigorous consumer support.