Monday, February 20, 2017

Report on egg board governance is out

There is almost nothing interesting in the report of the inquiry into the Ontario Egg Producers Marketing Board, Ontario Farmer has learned after using Freedom of Information to obtain a copy.

The inquiry was set up by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission after Verified Eggs, owned by Svante Lind, filed a complaint requesting an inquiry.

But the commission refused to look into a long list of allegations that are at the root of what Lind has claimed was unfair treatment by the board and competitors.

The commission’s correspondence indicates that it shrugged off the allegations by noting they’re the subject of a lawsuit – still not settled – that Lind filed against the egg board and the two major egg-grading companies that were his competitors. 

He sold his Best Choice Eggs under duress a couple of years ago.

The commission also decided that egg grading is the responsibility of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

That’s a crucial part of the concerns Lind outlined. The egg board accused him of cheating by not including enough eggs in the Grade A category which is the only one for which it collects levies to run its operations.

Lind countered that it’s not his Best Choice Eggs that was cheating, but competitors L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd. and Burnbrae Farms who included cracks and dirty eggs in their Grade A category.

Ontario Farmer has confirmed that Lind’s complaint is justified, based on the results of random-sample checks conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The commission correspondence includes a comment that there is a “tolerance” for grading. There is nothing in the law or regulations the CFIA is supposed to enforce that allows for a tolerance at the grading station.

Lind also complained about the administration of supplementary import permits. The commission simply accepted the egg board’s contention that it’s the national egg agency, not the Ontario board, that deals with supplementary import permits.

The commission apparently didn’t care to notice that it’s the Ontario board that scares up eggs in an attempt to thwart applications for supplementary import permits and that the eggs it supplied to Lind are the subject of one of his complaints. 

Eggs that arrived at his plant were cracked, broken and dirty and condemned by the CFIA inspector checking them on arrival at Best Choice.

Having narrowed the terms of the inquiry to egg board governance, the report indicates the investigators were satisfied when they found documents outlining policies and procedures.

They did not check how well those policies and procedures were implemented, simply saying that’s up to the board of directors elected by farmers.

There are large sections of the documents that have been censored, some because the freedom-of-information officials say they are exempted because they refer to criminal matters, some because they are correspondence between solicitor and client and some because they are protected by privacy law.

The report itself was released in its entirety.

What is most surprising is that the final report was submitted almost four years ago, but the commission said nothing, even though Ontario Farmer often inquired whether it was finished.

The inquiry was conducted by two officials from the Ontario government’s Transportation and Agriculture Audit Services.

They worked under guidance from Deborah Whale and Jim Clark who were both vice-chairs of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

Clark was recently appointed chairman after the resignation of Geri Kamenz.