Quebec Pork Plant Strike Has U.S. Packers Making Canadian Bacon
(Bloomberg) -- A workers’ strike at a pork plant in Quebec is allowing U.S meat packers, who are struggling to find enough domestic pigs, to make some Canadian bacon instead.
While workers on strike since April were marching through Quebec City demanding higher wages, hogs that would typically be slaughtered at Olymel’s plant in Vallee-Jonction were getting trucked over the border into the U.S.
The surge in imports of Canadian hogs is helping to temper a rally in the U.S. pork market, with wholesale prices for the meat at the highest levels since the record peaks of 2014, according to Department of Agriculture data. The shipments are also stemming losses for hog producers in Ontario who have lost access to their Quebec market amid the strike.
“Most of the pork that we import from Ontario to be slaughtered at the Quebec plant, we send them now mostly to the States,” said Richard Vigneault, spokesman for Olymel, Canada’s biggest hog producer.
The strike at the Canadian plant is the latest disruption to the food supply chain that was hit by massive shutdowns when thousands of workers caught the coronavirus last year. Meat prices have been soaring in 2021 as more of the global economy reopens. Meanwhile, food manufacturers have complained about a lack of labor to staff plants and workers have pushed for better conditions and pay.
Unionized workers at a Smithfield Foods Inc. pork plant in South Dakota authorized a strike last week before coming to a tentative agreement on a new contract with the company.
The strike in Canada is helping to accelerate already-elevated hog shipments to the U.S. Canadian hog producers typically raise more hogs than can be processed in the country and the surplus crosses the border. U.S. hog demand currently is strong, with supplies tight following culling during last year’s coronavirus outbreak.
But for farmers in Ontario who have contracts with Olymel and are impacted by the strike, it’s not been the best trade. Typically, 37,000 hogs are transported weekly to Olymel’s Vallee-Jonction plant, which stopped operations when the strike began on April 28.
“We are losing money in those operations,” Olymel’s Vigneault said. “We have to sell it over to other parties. There’s a cost associated to that. There is a cost for all the inconvenience going on with the strike.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.