Thursday, November 27, 2014

Judge orders egg-quality information released

Burnbrae Farms Ltd. has lost its court challenge to keep egg inspector reports on its operations secret.

Justice Cecily Y. Strickland of the Ontario Court of Appeals has said almost all of the information contained in the reports may be released to those who apply under Access to Information.

The exception is the names of customers and the brand name on the packaging for those customers.

Burnbrae sought to also keep the volumes of the eggs inspected secret, but the judge agreed with the lawyer speaking for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that the records are only one point in time and do not reveal general sales volumes.

The Access-to-Information request was for CFIA inspection records for random sampling during the final three months of 2010, 2011 and 2012 for Burnbrae and for L.H. Gray and Son Ltd.

Ted Hudson, vice-president of marketing for Burnbrae, argued that if repeated applications under Access to Information are filed, the person asking for the files can develop a picture of Burnbrae’s business.

Hudson also argued that the inspector’s ratings on issues of food safety, such as wash-water temperature and pH, is confidential information that would give a competitor insights into Burnbrae’s proprietary procedures.

The judge disagreed, saying the reports only indicate whether the eggs fail to meet regulatory standards and don’t outline the equipment or procedures Burnbrae uses to meet those standards.

Hudson said by way of an affidavit that the company’s business has been harmed by misleading reports arising from the records on a blog. He quoted from in making that argument.

The judge said that’s an issue for Burnbrae to pursue via a libel or defamation suit. It’s not an issue about whether the reports themselves ought to be made public.

Hudson did not detail what was misleading about the blog postings.

He did, however, testify that it harms Burnbrae in its negotiations for contracts with customers.

While Hudson seems to assume the Access-to-Information request under court review was filed by Jim Romahn who writes , there is nothing in the court documents that reveals who filed the Access-to-Information request.

There is also an ongoing lawsuit among Burnbrae, L.H. Gray Son Ltd., the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board and Sweda Farms Inc. and it’s possible that lawyers involved in that litigation filed for the inspection reports. Or it could be CBC Marketplace or any number of other people.

There's one sure way for Burnbrae to avoid losing customers from the release of CFIA inspection reports: run a clean business.