Sunday, March 30, 2014

Egg case documents released

More than two years after Ontario Farmer asked under Freedom of Information legislation, documents have finally been released showing how the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission dealt with allegations of widespread cheating in the egg industry.

The commission finally hired an investigator, but limited his investigation to governance issues at the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

That falls far short of what whistleblower Norman Bourdeau outlined in a long and detailed list of allegations filed with the commission in April, 2012.

It also falls far short of the public inquiry requested by lawyer Donald Good on Jan. 5, 2011, acting on behalf of Verified Eggs Canada Inc. which is owned by Svante Lind of Blackstock.

The commission responded, asking Good to provide evidence. Good declined, saying it would be improper to provide evidence before a public inquiry takes place in a setting where what’s said can be challenged by lawyers.

He also notes that the commission acted improperly by consulting the egg board prior to any public inquiry, alleges that it appears that commission staff even helped the egg board to craft its reaction to the complaints and notes that the commission failed to let him know that it had rejected Lind’s request for an inquiry.

“It was only through Freedom of Information that this prior decision came to light,” Good wrote more than three years ago.

Good also noted that “the major impediment raised by the commission appears to be the court proceedings in Toronto (where Lind filed a lawsuit against the egg board, Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. The two companies grade 88 per cent of the eggs produced in Ontario.

“At the present time, there are no court proceedings between Verified Eggs Canada Inc. and Egg Farmers of Ontario,” Good responded, so that excuse doesn't hold water.

And “Bourdeau is not a party to the Toronto proceedings,” he added, knocking out another commission excuse.

The court “proceedings are not a bar to the commission exercising its authority and obligations under Section 3 of the Farm Products Marketing Act with respect to its oversight authority of the Egg Farmers of Ontario,” Good wrote.

He adds that the court has no oversight authority over the egg marketing board. That is the responsibility of the commission.

Good also complains that the egg board, through then-chair Carolynne Griffiths, attacked the character of Bourdeau.

“I understand that section 425 of the Criminal Code provides protection for whistleblowers in Canada,” Good responds, yet the egg board “is asking the commission to make a negative inference on Mrs. Bourdeau’s character based on unsubstantiated opinion.”

Good also notes that the commission chairman, Geri Kamenz, wrote that issues related to egg grading fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and that’s where allegations of cheating on egg grading should be taken.

Good responds that the commission has “specific and exclusive jurisdiction” over the egg marketing board, so “there can be no interference with other authorities (such as the food inspection agency) in the exercise of their respective but different jurisdictions.”

Bourdea’s detailed allegations include claims that L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd. cheated the egg board, farmers and the egg-buying public. Gray has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Among Bourdeau’s specific allegations are:

·      - Gray set automatic grading equipment to include five to seven per cent of unqualified eggs into Grade A retail-ready cartons. Some were cracks, some were dirty and some the wrong size.

·      The percentage of Ontario eggs graded A is consistently higher than in other provinces.

·      The egg board has not collected grading summary reports from Gray, so is unable to calculate the percentage that are Graded A. Nor are farmers provided copies of the grading summary reports. 

  -  The egg board has failed to require Gray to provide farmers with printouts of the actual grading for their eggs. If farmers had both sets of information, they could discover whether Gray is cheating. So could the egg board.

·      Egg producers are intentionally over-paid for bad eggs, the egg board is collecting levies on these bad eggs and the public is cheated. He calculated the over-payment to Gray’s producers at a minimum of $1,773,250 for 2010.

·      Gray could be manipulating grading to move large eggs into the lower-priced medium category, thereby making up for any over-payments to farmers and the egg board.

·      Gray cheated the salmonella enteriditis fund by claiming birds were pullets when they were actually 60 weeks old and nearing the end of their lifetime in the barn. The compensation fund pays according to the number of weeks remaining in the normal egg-laying life of the birds.

·      Gray cheats on the eggs-for-processing business by picking and choosing which producers will be enrolled, picks old-age flocks with a higher percentage of poor-quality eggs yet charges the egg board as if the eggs were average quality, mixes in returns from stores “and other under-grade eggs” and often includes Grade B eggs.

·      “The grading summaries for these eggs are always manipulated,” alleges Bourdeau, and further distorts the percentage of undergrades Gray reports to the egg board for its Nest Run program.

·      Gray finds it easy to cheat on the Nest Run program because the eggs go to its own egg-processing plants.

·      There are so many bad eggs mixed in that the yields at the processing plants are relatively low, so Gray asks for more (lower priced) industrial eggs and that is “further cheating (of) the system.”

Bourdeau was Gray’s information technology officer and, as such, had access to all of the company’s electronic records.

He has made a copy of Gray’s hard-drive data. It is currently under court protection, held by a Kitchener lawyer, pending the outcome of legal wrangling between Good and Alison Webster, lawyer for Gray.

She has consistently tried to block the release of any information about Gray and to keep the electronic records from being used to determine the accuracy of allegations Lind and his Best Choice Eggs Ltd. have made against the egg board, Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and Gray.

In those allegations, Good claims Burnbrae also cheated just as Gray did. Owner Joe Hudson is on court record claiming the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a tolerance of five to seven per cent for undergrades. There is no regulation or information from the CFIA to back that claim. The CFIA regulation has zero tolerance for under grades at the egg-grading station.

There is currently an appeal by Good against a court decision earlier this year to remove Burnbrae from the lawsuit.