Saturday, November 8, 2014

No egg inquiry correspondence

There has been no correspondence since April between the person appointed to conduct an inquiry into governance of the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

The commission initiated the inquiry in May, 2013, after more than a year of prodding by people who informed the commission of problems such as over-collection of levies and over-payments to farmers  because egg grading stations were inflating the number of eggs they marketed as Grade A.

The egg board collects levies to fund its operations only on Grade A eggs.

The results of Canadian Food Inspection Agency random-sample surveys have subsequently confirmed that the two egg-grading companies that account for more than 90 per cent of gradings in Ontario have included eggs that do not quality as Grade A in their packages for retail. The surveys turned up as high as 18 per cent cracks, dirts and wrong sizes in a retail-ready shipment.

The person or company conducting the inquiry was due to report almost a year ago, but last December, after filing an interim report, asked for more time.

The lack of correspondence between the commission and its investigator was confirmed in an Oct. 31 letter from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

The letter from Andrea Martin, acting director of the Business Services Branch, came in response to an application filed under the Freedom of Information ad Protection of Privacy Act.

She wrote: “Please be informed that there has been no correspondence between the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission and/or firm engaged by the commission to conduct an inquiry into governance of the Ontario Egg Marketing Board (Egg Farmers of Ontario); therefore, no responsive records exist.”

Meanwhile a lawsuit filed by Svante Lind and his Best Choice Eggs, alleging conspiracy among L.H. Gray & Son Ltd, Burnbrae Farms and the egg board, is slowly wending its way through various court actions.

One of them is an appeal against a court decision that removed Burnbrae from the lawsuit. Another court action aims to determine how much information from Gray's electronic files can be allowed as evidence.

Cheating on egg grading is one of the main allegations in that lawsuit. The egg board accused Lind and Best Choice Eggs of cheating on egg grading by fewer than the provincial average met Grade A standards.

That prompted some farmers to move their marketing away from Best Choice Eggs and also prompted the egg board to seek more levies from Best Choice.

Lind's lawsuit claims Best Choice grading was accurate and that it was the provincial average, made up almost entirely from gradings by Gray and Burnbrae, that was inaccurate.

Gray has denied any wrongdoing.