Friday, March 30, 2012

No decision yet on GFOs

There is still no decision from the tribunal on re-certifying four general farm organizations to continue receiving funding on the Farm Business Registration program run by the province through Agricorp.

The last time I talked with the chairman in February, he said the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal was in the process of writing a decision and I would know when it's posted on the tribunal's website.

Either Kirk Walstedt is a slow writer or there is a deadlock among tribunal members.

The tribunal re-opened its public hearing on the National Farmers Union when several executives resigned and informed the tribunal about the power the head office in Saskatoon exercises over the Ontario local which, according to government rules, is supposed to be independent.

The others awaiting a tribunal decision are the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and, through them, funding for an association for French-language farmers in Ontario.

So, Mr. Minister, do you put tribunal members through a performance appraisal process?

Egg deal reached

The Canadian Egg and Poultry Processors Council and Egg Farmers of Canada have finally reached a deal on pricing eggs for breakers.

The details have not been made public, but there apparently are premiums for four categories as part of the new deal.

These eggs have been priced to track the U.S. market in an effort to keep food companies that buy processed eggs and egg products competitive with suppliers in the U.S.

The egg marketing board withdrew its complaint to the Farm Products Council of Canada when the pricing agreement was reached. The council asked the two sides to continue negotiating rather than handling the issue through a hearing and council decision.

There are apparently some details yet to be settled.

Chicken industry fractured

Canada’s chicken industry is fractured over the issue of how much to produce this summer.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada marketing agency has the power to set production targets and has included a two per cent increase over year-earlier levels for market growth.

That is more than three associations, representing processors, further processors and restaurateurs, recommended.

The Canadian Egg and Poultry Processors Council called for only a one per cent increase.

The egg farmers spent time during the agency’s recent annual general meeting trying to tinker with the protocol for deciding how much chicken to produce and how to allocate it among the provinces.

Alberta brought a request for “special circumstances,” but only Ontario supported the proposal so it was denied.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Three Species at Risk advisors appointed

Premier Dalton McGuinty has appointed three academics to the Committee on Species at Risk in Ontario.

They are Joanna Freeland of Trent University, Daniel Heath of the University of Windsor and Dan Kraus, manager of conservation science at the Nature Conservancy Canada.

The committee advises the government on its Species at Risk programs which have recently been controversial among farmers for measures to protect Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks, including controls on when hay fields and pastures can be mowed.

Organic group tries to revive Monsanto case

A group of organic-grower organizations has filed an appeal against a New York court decision that dismissed their challenge of Monsanto.

The organic growers are seeking immunity from Monsanto’s patent-infringement challenges.

Lawyer Dan Ravincher said when he filed the appeal Wednesday that farmers have the right to protect themselves from being falsely accused of patent infringement by Monsanto.

Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan is among those who have filed the appeal.  He fought, and lost, in court when Monsanto accused him of planting Roundup-Ready canola.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blacks can file claims for farm loans

Blacks who were turned down for farm loans in the United States have been given a second chance to claim a share of $1.2 billion.

President Barack Obama has signed his approval for legislation to give the blacks a second chance to file a claim if they were turned down for a government loan between 1981 and 1996.

There was an initial settlement more than a decade ago following a court decision on a class-action lawsuit.

The original deadline to file an application was September 15, 2000, but it has become clear that many of those who would have been eligible didn’t know about the money they could claim.

The new deadline is May 10 this year. Estates are also eligible to apply. Some claims have been as high as $250,000.

In an article about the settlement, Associated Press cites the case of Ray James of Mississippi whose application was turned down for lack of education, yet he had spent years working on farms and has a college degree.

I'm in South Carolina right now, right where black farmers have struggled to buy land and develop farms. These are descendants of slaves who did the work that made Southern gentry among the richest in the world.

I have been reading about plantation owners here who had 1,000 and more slaves to produce rice, indigo and cotton. They built mansions that were the most expensive in the world, and hosted royalty from England and France.

Prejudice continues to this day. On Sundays here, churches are filled either with nothing but blacks or nothing but white people. And this is where some of the loan denials took place.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Public shirks pink slime

As the list of customers refusing to buy “pink slime” continues to increase, production is shutting down.

That’s sending ripples through the entire beef-packing food chain, making many traders nervous about where cattle prices are heading.

Beef Products Inc., the biggest processor of “pink slime” has shut down three of its four plants for 60 days, waiting to see what will happen.

It uses ammonia to treat beef trimmings that were previously sold as pet food or went for rendering. The market for these trimmings increased after the United States Department of Agriculture declared it safe for human consumption.

But when a meat inspector appeared on a national television program to criticize the product and call it “pink slime,” consumers and retailers began demanding that none of it be included in their hamburgers.

British chef, Jamie Oliver, also dissed the product.

Because the demand has plunged, there’s an assumption that cattle prices will decline. However, others say the demand for cull cows might increase because the industry will need more of them to provide meat to fill the market that was served by “pink slime”.

Rich Jochum, corporate administrator for Beef Products Inc. of South Dakota, said that the temporary closures of the three plants could become "a permanent suspension."

"This is a direct reaction to all the misinformation about our lean beef," Jochum told the Reuters news agency.

The company shut down operations  Monday at its plants in Amarillo, Texas, Finney County, Kansas, and Waterloo, Iowa. They employ 650 people making 550,000 pounds per day.

Two of the biggest U.S. supermarket operators, Safeway and Supervalu, have said they will stop buying the ammonia-treated beef. Closer to home, Wegman’s of upper New York State has stopped buying the “lean, finely-textured beef,” which is the industry term for the product.

McDonald's stopped using USDA-approved ammonia-treated meat in its hamburger products last summer.

The company's largest plant, based in South Sioux City, Neb., will remain open and in operation, Jochum said. 

"The demand in the market will hopefully resume," Jochum said.

BPI, founded in 1981, began as a processor of frozen beef products. In 2001, the company emerged as a key player in the nation's ground beef industry after federal regulators approved the firm's process of using ammonia in the beef processing to remove foodborne pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli O157:H7.

In general, BPI uses a heat and centrifuge process to melt the fat, collect and mash the meat, and spray ammonia hydroxide on it to remove possible bacteria and pathogens. The final product -- which is formed into blocks, frozen and shipped in boxes -- is relatively low in fat and often used as a cheap filler.

"Hamburger is not a completely safe product, but the BPI product is as safe, if not safer, than other parts of hamburger," said Seattle-based food safety lawyer William Marler. "BPI has gotten crushed by public sentiment that this stuff is icky."

Monday, March 26, 2012

More trade barriers now

With the World Trade talks stalled for a decade, trade barriers have been increasing.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently told a conference in Nashville. Tenn., that the U.S. faced 600 agriculture trade barriers when the Doha Round of negotiations began 10 years ago.
"Last year, we confronted nearly 1,500 trade barriers," Vilsack said.

At the same time, there have never been so many bilateral free-trade negotiations underway, including the weekend announcements from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that negotiations will begin soon with Japan and Thailand.

Bilateral talks have become popular because big countries can bully weaker trading partners, something they have more difficulty achieving in World Trade negotiations. Guess where Canada's clout fits in negotiations with the likes of the European Union and Japan.

But everybody is more likely to keep foolish agriculture subsidies and trade barriers in these negotiations among the wealthy nations. It's the poor who want those reduced and continue to suffer.

Vilsack also boasted that U.S. agriculture earns a trade surplus whereas the overall economy has been running a large and persistent trade deficit. What he didn't mention is the multi-billion-dollar subsidies to rice and cotton growers so the U.S. can export those harvests.

The U.S. agriculture trade surplus hit a record $42 billion in 2011, Vilsack said. But trade barriers are a growing concern, he added.

Judge rules vs. antibiotics

United States farmers may soon have to stop using penicillin and tetracycline as growth promotants.

Judge Theodore Katz of Washington, D.C., has told drug manufacturers they must prepare to withdraw the antibiotics for use as growth promotants unless they can prove they are safe.

His decision came from court action launched by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Council complained that the FDA made a move more than 35 years ago but failed to follow through with promised public hearings leading to the partial ban the Council seeks.

The NRDC claims "the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animal feed can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people."

The FDA issued a statement saying "we are studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bourdeau goes on the offensive

Whistleblower Norman Bourdeau has gone on the offensive in court actions involving Bill Gray and his L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd.

One is a contempt charge against Gray for failing to show up for an examination by Bourdeau on March 8. Bourdeau is also asking the court to throw Gray in jail for contempt. 

Gray’s lawyer, Allison Webster, says the court action to which this examination relates has been withdrawn by Bourdeau, so she says Bourdeau’s contempt motion will fail.

The other court action repeats many of the claims Sweda Farms Ltd. has filed in a lawsuit against L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd., Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and the Ontario Egg Producers Marketing Board.

The defendants in that case deny any wrongdoing. They have not yet filed a defence against Bourdeau’s new allegations.

Bourdeau’s long list of accusations includes:

·      Price fixing since Jan. 31, 2000, to present;

·      Conspiracy to lessen competition in the production, grading and sale of both domestically-produced and imported eggs;

·      Illegal rebates and exclusivity contracts with retailers, including Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Wal-Mart, Costco and Longo’s;

·      Illegal packaging of cracked and dirty eggs in Grade A cartons;

·      Manipulating grades to the detriment of producers and the Ontario Egg Producers Marketing Board;

·      Manipulating the system governing importing of eggs;

·      The collection of secret commissions by Scott Brookshaw, a senior employee of Gray, from Bailey Construction and Mohr Construction;
·      Witness tampering;

·      Destruction of company records;

·      Counselling employees to commit perjury and pressuring employees into refusing to act as witnesses.

  Bourdeau is seeking $10,000,000 in damages plus $5,000,000 in punitive damages.

Beware livestock critics

The Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., is raising concerns about the continued increase in livestock farming.
It says in a report released today that the global population of farm animals increased 23 percent between 1980 and 2010, from 3.5 billion to 4.3 billion, and increased harmful effects on the environment, public health, and global development.
Both production and consumption of animal products are increasingly concentrated in developing countries, says the report by Danielle Nierenberg, director of the institute’s Nourishing the Plant project.
Consumption is, however, now declining in these countries, she says.
 "The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate in recent decades," she writes.
"While industrialized countries still consume the most animal products, urbanization and rising incomes in developing countries are spurring shifts to more meat-heavy diets. 
"Farm-animal production provides a safety net for millions of the world's most vulnerable people, but given the industry's rapid and often poorly-regulated growth, the biggest challenge in the coming decades will be to produce meat and other animal products in environmentally and socially sustainable ways," Nierenberg writes.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, are the most rapidly-growing system of farm animal production.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 80 percent of growth in the livestock sector now comes from these hog and poultry barns and beef feedlots
CAFOs now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, according to the United Nations.
‘But CAFOs produce high levels of waste, use huge amounts of water and land for feed production, contribute to the spread of human and animal diseases, and play a role in biodiversity loss,” Nierenberg says.
“Farm animal production also contributes to climate change: the industry accounts for an estimated 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, including nine percent of the  carbon dioxide, nearly 40 percent of the methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide), and 65 percent of the nitrous oxide (300 times more potent than carbon dioxide).
 “Factory farms pose a serious threat to public health as well. Diets high in animal fat and meat----particularly red meat and processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage----have been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer,” she writes.
CAFOs are becoming increasingly prevalent in developing regions such as East and Southeast Asia where environmental, animal-welfare, public health, and labor standards are often not as well-established as in industrialized regions, she writes.
She claims that approximately 75 percent of the new diseases that affected humans from 1999 to 2009 originated in animals or animal products.
She notes that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations claims that at least 21 percent of the world's livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.
She also says ‘cattle enterprises have been responsible for 65-80 percent of the deforestation of the Amazon, and countries in South America are clearing large swaths of forest and other land to grow animal feed crops” such as corn and soybeans.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chicken production to increase

Chicken Farmers of Canada is increasing the allocation for summer-time production by 4.2 per cent to 161.7 million kilograms.

Ontario’s allocation is 4.9 per cent greater than the same time last year at 52.2 million kilograms and Quebec’s is greater by 4.2 per cent to 44.8 million kilograms.

Beekeepers seek clothianidin ban

Beekeepers and environmental groups are petitioning the United States Environment Protection Agency to ban clothianidin.

The pesticide gained conditional approval from Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency in May of last year to be used to control insect pests of potatoes, grapes, pome and stone fruits and turf.

The beekeepers claim the pesticide is killing their bees.

The EPA says it has received about 1.2 million comments from people, most of them in support of the petition.

Rehorst is vice-chair of national chicken agency

Adrian Rehorst of Teeswater has been elected first vice-chairman of the Chicken Farmers of Canada national marketing agency.

Dave Janzen of British Columbia moved up from first vice-chairman to chairman. He has been an agency director since 2006.

Martin Dufresne of Quebec remains second vice-chairman.

Yvon Cyr of New Brunswick, a member of the Westco Group which is running Maple Lodge out of the province, was elected to the executive committee.

There is no word from the agency about it's position on the drive to ban live chicken trade between Ontario and Quebec. 

Zantingh heads chicken board

Henry Zantingh is the new chairman of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

He takes over from Murray Booy who stepped aside after three years as chairman. Booy was elected first vice-chairman, swapping positions with Zantingh.

Murray Opsteen was elected second vice-chairman.

Henrik Lise from District Four is the only new director elected to the board this year.

The board also introduced a new-entrant program, similar to one the egg board implemented last year.
As with the egg board plan, new entrants must buy some quota, (4,000 units) and they can borrow more from the board (10,00 units). 

In the case of the egg board, the entrants have 10 years to buy the borrowed quota in instalments. The chicken board is giving entrants 15 years to buy back the 10,000 units.

The chicken board also introduced the strategic plan developed by the Chicken Industry Advisory Committee. It features new allocation arrangements for both Ontario and Quebec, but I've had no luck asking the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission for a copy.

Seems like the more important policy decisions are, the more difficult it is to get the details instead of the chicken board's spin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pink slime controversy trims profit

The controversy over the inclusion of “pink slime” in hamburger and other beef products is pinching margins for beef packers, especially those who slaughter cull cows.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reacted to public concern by allowing schools to decide whether they want to ban pink slime from the hamburger they serve in the subsidized School Lunch Program.

That has reduced demand for the beef trimmings that are what’s called pink slime.

And it's all because a meat inspector went on television in the United States, using  the industry's common term - "pink slime" - for beef trimmings. 

What's in a name?

A lot of money for those who sell cull cows and slaughter them for food.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hillier quits Landowners

Randy Hillier, the redneck founder of the Ontario Landowners Association, has withdrawn his membership because he disagrees with the associations strident - and stupid - stand on ownership rights.

Hillier has never made any sense to me, but quitting the OLA on this issue seems like the most sensible thing he has ever done.

Galbraith has a fool for his lawyer

Kitchener – Arlan Galbraith, 65, the self-styled Pigeon King, defiantly told a judge here Monday that he’s going to act as his own lawyer in a complicated court case that is likely to last weeks.
Justice Gary Hearn tried to persuade him to hire a new lawyer after he fired his previous one three weeks ago, but Galbraith ignored Hearn when he returned to district court.
Galbraith faces one charge of fraud for his dealings with about 1,000 investors with whom he signed contracts worth about $20 million to raise breeding stock he intended to sell to more new investors.
The scheme collapsed when he failed to find enough new investors, and Galbraith put his company, Pigeon King International inc., into bankruptcy. 
He is facing four charges of violating the Bankruptcy Act for failing to appear at a meeting of creditors and attempts to obtain credit cards and a cash advance.
The case involves investors across Canada and into the United States where it was featured on the television show 60 Minutes.

He is due back in court here April 16.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Solar rates poised to fall

The Ontario government says it will announce changes to its Green Energy program this week, and it’s likely that solar rates will decline.

The cost of solar panels has declined sharply, led by new technologies and companies in China, so the rates Ontario pays for 20-year contracts is bound to decline. They are based on return on investment, and the current return is exceptionally good.

There are, however, a number of property owners whose solar-panel projects have been stranded because of lack of distribution capacity so they can’t yet connect to the grid.

The province is unlikely to cut prices as sharply, or perhaps at all, for electricity generated by windmills of biomass generators.

It is likely to allow for some municipal input on wind farms because there has been a rural rebellion against the province’s policy to grant approvals despite Not-in-my-Back Yard opposition.

Walker retiring

Glenn Walker, chairman of the Ontario Normal Farm Practices Board, is retiring after 11 years, three as vice-chairman and the last eight as chairman.
He is a lawyer from Ridgetown who dominated public hearings, giving them a relatively legalistic atmosphere as compared with the appeals tribunal and marketing commission.
Most of the hearings arise when neighbours complain about noises and odours from farms. Most are also withdrawn or settled before a public hearing proves necessary.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recalls expand again

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has now ordered everything New Food Classics made since last July at its plant at St. Catharines to be recalled.

The new recall comes after weeks of issuing recalls for specific beef-containing products made at the plant that’s in receivership.

The CFIA says one person has been sickened, but hasn’t said how ill that person is.

The food poisoning is from E. Coli 0157:H7.

Perhaps the widest circulation of the products was through the Loblaws chain, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, including its private-label “no name” hamburgers and steakettes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recalls keep expanding

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to expand its recalls of beef products processed by New Food Classics’ plant at St. Catharines.

Today the CFIA added Giant Tiger retail outlets to the recall.

New Food Classics is, however, in bankruptcy and it’s not clear who is in charge of the recalls posted on the website of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

A spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told me he doesn't know who is in charge - "a receiver or somebody else"- but that it doesn't matter because it's the retailers, such as Loblaws, that do the actual recalling by pulling the products off their shelves or, in this case, out of their store freezers.
Loblaws figures prominently in the recalls which include is private-label “no name” beef burgers and Club Pack beef steakettes made at CFIA Est. # 761, which is the New Food Classics plant at St. Catharines.

One illness has been reported. The issue is E.coli 0157:H7.

I'm wondering whether Galen Weston, owner of Loblaws, has his buyers putting so much pressure on suppliers that they cut corners on food safety and quality? This is the second private-label supplier to Loblaws to go under in less than a year. The other is Colonial Cookies in Cambridge which Loblaws ended up taking over.

If it was Loblaws' pricing pressure that did New Food Classics in, it would be an ironic spin on Weston's controversial speech a couple of months ago questioning food safety at farmers' markets.

Three Ottawa children in hospital with salmonella

Salmonella has sickened 16 Ottawa children, putting three of them in hospital, and public health officials have zeroed in on one type of meal served at schools and daycare centres.

The sickened children are between ages 15 months and 14 years.

They all ate food prepared at one of three The Lunch Lady locations, but public health inspections of that facility have turned up no infractions or deficiencies in food handling and preparation.

The health unit is not identifying the specific type of meal in question because officials said they don’t want to alarm parents.

But that means parents can't take any action to protect their children. Just trust the bureaucrats to do the right things, folks!

My heart goes out to those three children in hospital. I hope they fully recover.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Feddes loses chicken appeal

Juan (John) Feddes, owner of La Primavera Farms, has lost his appeal to have a penalty imposed by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board either cancelled or reduced.

The tribunal ruled that he must face the penalty imposed by the board which is $23,078 and a reduction in how much chicken he is allowed to produce this year.
It is the board’s standard penalty for ovedr-production.
Feddes pleaded for mercy on the basis that his daughter, who he was bringing into the business, did not understand the board’s production-setting system and made a mistake.
But Feddes also conceded, under questioning by board lawyer Geoffrey Spurr, that he remained sole owner of the business when the over-production took place.