Iowa warns investors off Pigeon King International,
Canadian-owned pigeon farming company
accused of misleading investors
Randy Boswell, CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
A Canadian businessman behind a multi-million-dollar network of pigeon farms across North America -- his empire fuelled by predictions of a post-chicken world ruled by squab -- is under investigation after the State of Iowa issued an alert to potential investors that Pigeon King International may be a Ponzi scam.
In a statement sent to CanWest News Service, Iowa's attorney-general warns that the Waterloo, Ont.-based company, which has attracted hundreds of Canadian and U.S. farmers to its bird-breeding operation despite having no immediate end-market for slaughtered pigeons, may be "misleading consumers regarding the true viability of establishing several large pigeon processing plants" and "providing inventory for new growers in furtherance of a Ponzi type of investment scheme."
The statement, issued last week by the office of Iowa's Attorney-General Tom Miller, added: "We believe that potential investors/buyers should be very cautious and examine the situation very carefully -- especially the question of whether there is a realistic and independent market for pigeons now and in the future."
Pigeon King president Arlan Galbraith says pigeons will be a source of protein if chickens are wiped out by avian flu.
Pigeon King president Arlan Galbraith defends his enterprise, insisting Iowa authorities have been misled by critics blinded by "jealousy and envy" over his firm's rise to riches.
Praising the pigeon's growth rate -- "They multiply their weight 60 times in 28 days" -- Galbraith added "pigeons don't get avian flu and they don't spread it.
"Avian flu has the potential to destroy the chicken industry. At that point in time, pigeons will be a very valuable source of meat protein," Galbraith said in an interview Monday with CanWest News Service.
im Clark, head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's avian influenza working group, said scientific experiments have shown pigeons to be uncannily resistant to the bird flu. But he added that recent studies of a virulent new Asian strain of the H5N1 virus show it does infect the species.
Clark added that Canada and other countries have established controls to prevent the poultry industry from being devastated by avian influenza.
Galbraith said he has already delivered breeding birds to about 700 investors -- half in Canada, half in the U.S. -- to supply a future global squab meat industry. He said he expects to hit the restaurant and grocery markets around the world with high-quality, low-priced pigeon products within four years. While noting that China and India are the main international markets for pigeon meat, Galbraith said his goal is to make squab "mainstream" among North American consumers.
"Our goal is to introduce these birds more into the mainstream population," he said. "We're going to do it by mass production and very low prices, which has never been done before. It's always been produced on a small scale at a high price.
"I can guarantee you I am not running any Ponzi scheme," he added, "but, I mean, it's great fodder for critics. There's all kinds of people in Iowa that know all about this situation, and they're begging me to do business with them -- in spite of knowing all the details of this.
"I've been doing this for six years, and I can guarantee you that every person that breeds pigeons for us has got paid in full every four weeks for the birds that they ship .... Every one of them has been paid a profitable price for six years running .... You ask the hog industry and the cattle industry about that and see if they can make that claim."
Ponzi schemes, named for 1920s American Charles Ponzi, enrich early investors at the expense of latecomers. Payments to original investors are typically made using money generated by finding new people to buy in to the business. Later investors eventually run out of fresh recruits to the scheme -- and with no other source of revenue, the "pyramid" finally collapses.