Thursday, October 2, 2014

Egg farmers are too complacent

Farmers like to picture themselves as honest, hard-working families taking care to produce top-quality food for the Canadian public.

It's a nice vision.

If egg farmers really believe that's what they desire, they need to get off their duffs and start taking some drastic action to clean up the egg-grading industry.

Canada's two largest egg-grading companies - which also happen to hold tens, if not hundreds, of millions worth of egg production quota - have been cheating the public on egg quality for at least a decade, if not forever.

There have been posting on this blog, stretching over years, documenting the fact that about five per cent of the eggs in retail cartons marked Grade A eggs are not, in fact, up to Grade A standard.

It started with allegations by whistleblower Norman Bourdeau who says the information is confirmed in electronic data he took from L.H. Gray & Son Ltd.

Svante Linde, whose Best Choice Eggs grading operation was driven out of business, has filed a high-profile lawsuit. His allegations, which have yet to be proven in court, are well known throughout the egg-farming industry.

Yet L.H. Gray & Son Ltd. and Burnbrae Farms, which account for about 90 per cent of the eggs sold in supermarkets in Ontario, and who have other operations across the nation, continue to market cracks and dirts in Grade A cartons.

I have used Access to Information to obtain files from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that confirm that both companies routinely fail to meet Grade A standards for the eggs they market. Some cartons had more than 15 per cent cracks and dirts.

The CFIA data is not cherry picked. It is results from random sample surveys.

Yet egg farmers have been like the McKenzie River - frozen at the mouth.

They have not spoken up to condemn the two egg-grading companies, or to call them to account.

They could start their own egg-grading stations to provide the public with eggs that do meet Grade A standards. A few of the multi-million egg farmers in Ontario considered that possibility, but have not followed through.

One of these fine days this scandalous situation is going to register with the general public. When that happens, it will be too late to rescue the reputation of eggs. And of egg farmers.

The farmers are exceptionally well organized through provincial marketing boards co-ordinated under a national monopoly.

Yet there is no indication they care about the dismal reputation of their eggs.