Trickle-down effect of B.C. floods: Halal meat is high-priced and hard to find in Fort McMurray

·3 min read
Halal chicken at a Superstore in Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC News - image credit)
Halal chicken at a Superstore in Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC News - image credit)

It's getting more expensive and more difficult to get halal meat in Fort McMurray, as transportation prices increase and the supply of specially prepared meat goes down.

When Muhammad Haider opened a halal butcher shop in the northern Alberta community in November, he planned to bring in different cuts of halal meat from farms in British Columbia.

But the massive flooding that month meant he needed to find a new supply from Alberta farmers and there's not nearly as much available.

Fresh chicken is particularly scarce, he said.

"If I order 20 cases, we get only five or six," said Haider, owner of Chops Meat House. "They cannot fulfil the requirement at the minute."

The cost of getting the meat into his shop is high, he said. That cost is being passed onto customers in the form of higher prices, which means they're turning away.

In his first month, he made $33,000, not the $40,000 to $50,000 he projected.

"If I have the product, I might be on my target," said Haider.

In a bid to keep his business afloat, Haider has started delivering to customers who aren't able to make it to the shop.

"We are doing home delivery as well, just to make it happen," Haider said.

He said people come in looking to buy chicken but when they see he's sold out "they go to Save On."

But there isn't much halal chicken available in the chain stores, either, he said.

"Everybody's not getting their product."

Halal is an Arabic term that means "permitted" or "lawful" in Islam. For religious reasons, Muslims are allowed to consume only halal meat.

Mo Hamayed, manager of Cedars Bakery and Restaurant, usually orders wholesale skids of halal chicken but he hasn't been able to get any from B.C. since the floods.

Now, he's paying $1,400 for two skids of chicken from Montreal, a steep hike from the $450 he'd have paid otherwise.

"There's not much we can do about it. We just have to keep going," said Hamayed.

Last year he had to raise prices because of COVID-19, much to the dismay of his customers.

He's worried about hiking prices again.

"Some people won't probably be able to afford it anymore," said Hamayed.

Ken Huttema, owner of Farm Fed Poultry located in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, said road closures and a steep increase in transportation prices forced him to raise the price on his halal chickens.

During the floods in B.C., Farm Fed lost two out of 30 chicken farms.

"I don't see this getting better any time soon either. Especially on the transportation side," said Huttema. His company has seen an increase in transportation costs of 600 to 700 per cent.

He's also dealing with staff shortages. For several days in the past week, the plant operated at half-speed because it was short-staffed.

On top of that, he said it's getting more expensive to be an approved halal chicken producer.

"We need to recover our cost, so the price goes up," said Huttema.

Abdurrahmann Murad, Fort McMurray's imam, said he's noticed a change over the last few months when he walks into grocery stores.

"You might find an entire section empty, or very sparsely packed," said Murad.

Because of the selection in town, some have driven to Edmonton to stock up, Murad said.

Murad said his family has shifted to seafood because it's more widely available.

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