Friday, April 27, 2012

CFIA finally reacts to European virus

Months after Canadian farmers raised alarms about Schmallenberg virus in Europe, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has finally announced it’s tightening standards for importing livestock, semen and embryos.

"This government is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadian livestock and the livelihoods that depend on them," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a news release.
The news release went out after business hours in Eastern Canada late Friday afternoon, meaning that most agricultural news media won't catch up with the news until Monday.
The CFIA says animals or embryos destined for Canada must test negative for the virus. That means cattle, bison, water buffalo, sheep and goats.
Schmallengurg virus, which is spread by biting insects, causes fever, diarrhea, reduced milk production and birth defects. It’s not believed to harm humans.
The CFIA has posted import requirements on its website at Reference System (AIRS).

Three appointees announced

The Ontario government has announced that Bette Jean Crews has been appointed to a two-year term on the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Council and Jeff Davis and Henry Ankum have been appointed to three-year terms on the Grain Financial Protection Board.

The government has been almost silent on appointments since the election last fall.

Crews is president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, an executive committee member of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, chair of the Ontario Region Delegates of CoOperators Insurance Group, a board member of OnTrace Agri-Food Traceability and co-chair of the CFA Food Safety Committee.

Davis is from St. Thomas. Van Ankum of Alma, north of Kitchener-Waterloo, is past chairman of the Ontario Wheat Producers Marketing Board and a director of Grain Farmers of Ontario.

The other members of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Council are chairman Gerald Kamenza, Deborah Whale, Elmer Buchanan, Robert Aumell, Thomas Richardson, Anna Andres and Jim Clark.

The other members of the Grain Financial Protection Board are chairman Jim Campbell, Fred Wagner, Jeff Kobe, David Buttenham, Bary Senft and Darcy Oliphant.

Queen Oda pays up

So Bev Oda says she has paid back the exorbitant expenses she ran up during a trip to England, finally including $1,000 a day for a limousine to ferry her from her choice digs at the Savoy to the five-star hotel where she was originally booked into.

So who thinks Queen Oda would have paid so much as a thin dime had she not been found out by reporters who told Canadians?

And did her restitution cheques go to the Receiver-General of Canada - i.e. into the general pot to go towards any and all of Ottawa's many departmental budgets - or entirely to the Canadian International Development Agency which she is supposed to be running for the benefit of impoverished people overseas?

And, finally, could Harper not find somebody a bit more personally frugal to be the cabinet minister responsible for helping poor people?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Barn parties face uphill battle

After listening all day to testimony and arguments about barn parties at a hearing of the Ontario Fire Commission, I'm doubtful that farmers are going to be allowed to continue a generations-long tradition.

Unless, that is, politicians listen and change the law to grant exemptions so barns can be used to host events such as family weddings and teenage parties.

It became clear during the hearing that Wilmot Township fire inspector Dale Mayhew decided to inspect barns only after somebody filed a complaint.

In the case of Carol Cressman-Foster, it was Ted Evered, an advisor to the Ontario Fire Marshall, who sent an e-mail to Wilmot Township. From there, Mayhew simply did what the law requires.

It's not yet clear whether Evered filed a complaint about the White Barn, also in Wilmot Township, and that's why Mayhew inspected it last summer and issued a similar order to comply with the Ontario building and fire codes.

A hearing on that barn is yet to be held before the Ontario Fire Commission.

Commission chairman Rich Judge said his tribunal's task is clear-cut.
First, it needs to decide whether the barn is being used for "assembly occupancy." The definition is broad, including such things as social, educational and political gatherings.

Second, if it is being used for "assembly occupancy," then the question is whether it meets the building and fire codes.

It's hard to imagine that any "barn party" would escape the "assembly occupancy" definition.

And then that raises a hosts of hurdles for barn owners to use the barn for a party. They would need to hire an architect and an engineer and possibly an environmental consultant and they would need to bring the barn up to code, including exit doors, signs, lighting, perhaps firewalls and fire-retardant on barn boards and plank flooring.

One other thing that became clear during the hearing: any barn owner who files an appeal should hire a lawyer to handle the case.

Cressman-Foster and her agent, Ross Steckley, were badgered throughout for failure to comply with legal requirements and procedures. Wilmot Township lawyer Patrick Kraemer and commission chairman Judge often intervened to throw them off kilter by making them toe the lines.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CFIA to licence importers

 The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will soon demand that importers get a licence every two years.

The money grab starts at $259.48 and rises to $277.80 by 2017-18
It comes on the eve of the implementation of what’s called the MEGA-REG in the United States, and a requirement that all who import food into the U.S. obtain a licence eery two years. The fees, if any, have not yet been announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The CFIA has opened consultations on the proposed fees until June 29.
"The proposed regulations would include a range of tools and streamlined processes to help importers -- particularly small enterprises -- transition to the new requirements," CFIA said.
"Whether food comes from across the street or across the ocean, consumers should have confidence in their purchases," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

"The measures being proposed would tighten controls on imported foods and build on the significant investments we've already made to safeguard Canada's food supply," he said.

So, tell us, Gerry, how does licensing importers do anything to enhance food safety? It seems to have more to do with enhancing your budget.

Queen Oda

Bev Oda, the Minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, is totally out of touch with her responsibilities.

Her portfolio, her mandate, is to spend Canadian taxpayers' money to relieve misery, poverty and hunger in the world's poorest communities.

But when she travelled to England recently, the five-star hotel arranged for her was not good enough. She booked herself into the Savoy at $650 a night, far more than the rates at the hotel where the meetings she was to attend were being held and where staff had originally booked her. And ordered orange juice at $16 a glass. And a limousine to take her to the hotel where she should have been in the first place - at $1,000 a day.

Oh sure, when she realized Canadians were going to learn how regal she thinks she deserves to be treated, she decided to pay the hotel-bill difference out of her own pocket. Just as she did when she was found out earlier ordering a limousine instead of taking the van provided.

But she didn't pay back the $1,000 a day for the limousine in England.

This is the same Oda who personally, in defiance of advice from her departmental staff,  axed funding for Kairos, a Canadian non-government organization (NGO) that dares to point out injustices around the world, injustices that fall harshly on the poor people CIDA is mandated to help.

The Harper government, which is said to be in budget-cutting mode, could cut Oda. I doubt many people would miss her - except, perhaps, the fellow fat cats who enjoy hob-nobbing about world poverty in some of the world's most expensive hotels.

It all underlines my advice that CIDA ought to cut its spending on bilateral and multi-lateral aid by, say 10 per cent. That's where corruption is rampant, where politicians and bureaucrats with sticky fingers skim money intended for the poor.

The 10 per cent should go instead to fund Canadian NGOs that get right into the impoverished communities where every penny counts. That money never passes through foreign politicians and bureaucrats. Besides, supporting NGOs to which Canadians voluntarily make donations might make Queen Oda popular with at least some Canadian voters.

Ritz speaks with forked tongue

It seems to be that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz speaks with a forked tongue.

At the conclusion of a meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts, he put high priority on research, development and innovation.

But his budget axed the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, the centre that has been world famous for research, development and innovation that has kept the Prairies a major exporter of wheat.

I don't think it's necessary to keep every research station and farm open, or every agricultural scientist's pet projects funded.

But Ritz needs to provide some vision, some idea of where he thinks we should be investing our taxes in agricultural research, development and innovation.

How does he think wheat breeding ought, or will, be done for Canada? Simply axing the Cereal Research Centre is not a strategy. It's expediency to meet Harper's budget dictates.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gifford critiques supply management

Miike Gifford, who has retired as Canada’s chief trade negotiator on agriculture issues, is warning that supply management  threatens to scupper huge opportunities for Canadian exporters.

Writing for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, he says if Canada insists on retaining supply management protection for dairy and poultry farmers, it could keep Canada out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and if Japan joins the TPP, Canada would lose “enormous trade opportunities.”

He also says Canada stands to lose grain and meat markets if Australia and China reach a free-trade deal.

Gifford says international negotiations over agricultural market access will be difficult, but "having said that, there would likely be serious consequences for the rest of the economy not to mention the 80 per cent of Canadian agriculture that is tied to world prices if Canada were to be prevented from joining the TPP because of a reluctance to open up the dairy and poultry sectors," Gifford wrote in his report.

"The consequences for Canadian agriculture would be especially adverse if the outcome of the TPP negotiations was an agreement that included Japan but not Canada."

Canada has opened free trade talks with Japan and Thailand.

The report suggests that Canada and other countries that have agricultural protections will have to at least partially liberalize their systems in order to come to an agreement on these free-trade agreements. While Canada has its supply management system, Japan protects its rice, and the United States its sugar and dairy sectors.

Council president John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister, challenged the NDP MPPs from Quebec to consider their choices..

"If you're on the left of the political spectrum, why would you want to favour 13,000 dairy farmers over low-income Canadians that need milk, butter, eggs and cheese and chicken to feed their families? Explain that me," Manley said in an interview.

"That's a political calculation that nobody's done because nobody's made the effort to communicate to Canadians what the benefit is.                                                

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bourdeau is fined, but it’s under appeal

Justice Peter Lauwers has fined whistleblower Norman Bourdeau $5,000 and has awarded lawyers for L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. costs of $58,000.

The fine and award are, however, under appeal.

In fact, Bourdeau asked Lauwers to make his decision on the fine and court costs so those decisions can be included in his appeal of Lauwer’s finding earlier that Bourdeau was in contempt of court for failing to turn over everything he had from Gray to a supervising solicitor in Kitchener. The intent was to keep the files under court protection.

The information is from electronic files Bourdeau took from Gray after he says owner Bill Gray ordered him to destroy the files.

Those files, according to news reports before court records in London and Oshawa were also sealed, include more than 4,000 incriminating e-mails between Gray and his staff and with officials at Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

Bourdeau also alleges the records indicate Gray cheated to include cracks and dirty eggs as Grade A in packages shipped to retailers.

Gray denies any wrongdoing.

At the appeal on April 30, Broudeau is expected to argue that the court order to turn over the files to the supervising solicitor was intended to prevent Gray from destroying them, not to prevent him from making copies.

He will also argue that he was allowed to share information for the purposes of law enforcement.

Lauwers said in assessing the $5,000 fine that he will reduce it if Bourdeau comes to him in court to apologize.

He also indicated that a $5,000 fine is stiff for an individual. His lawyer argued for $1,500.

Gray’s lawyers sought a fine of $7,000 to $10,000 and between two weeks and two months in jail.

Lauwers said jail time is not appropriate.

This contempt-of-court issue is peripheral to a much larger lawsuit filed by Sweda Farms Ltd. against Gray, Burnbrae and the egg board, alleging they conspired to drive Sweda out of business.

The electronic records now under court protection are crucial in this lawsuit, explaining why Gray’s lawyers are working so hard to keep them secret and out of the court case and Sweda’s lawyers want many of the records to be allowed as evidence.

Researchers discover super-salmonella

Researchers have found a salmonella strain that is 100 times more dangerous in terms of causing food poisoning than average salmonella.

The researchers at the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California reported their findings in the journal of PLoS Pathogens.

They say this salmonella strain is so potent that it can overcome vaccines and they warn it poses a high food-safety risk.

The research team is working on a method to identify this salmonella which could be overlooked as routine salmonella.

The meat industry, and especially poultry processors and retailers, will be watching closely because the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently brought in new guidelines to tighten salmonella controls for poultry.

Why the CFIA stalled on HACCP

In 1989, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was a world leader in studying the application of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) in meat-packing plants.

I wrote a lot of critical columns about the CFIA sitting on the sidelines while the United States ended up taking the lead in implementing HACCP requirements for the meat-packing industry.

I have learned that the reason for the CFIA's hesitation was political fears that HACCP standards in Canada would be challenged in the World Trade Organization as a non-tariff trade barrier.

Now, isn't that just wonderful! The Canadian public remains faced with a food-safety risk because our politicians are too afraid to do the right thing.

Of course, as soon as the U.S. moved to require HACCP, all of our packing plants that export to the U.S. had to comply.

Politics is blocking another simple benefit for Canadian consumers. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency could change from over-the-shoulder meat inspection to point-of-sale sampling and testing and punishingly-expensive recalls that could also destroy the reputation of a brand.

I don't pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the debates that bureaucrats have advanced to bog things down, but in essence it seems that a retail-level standard for meat safety would intrude on provincial jurisdiction and their weak-kneed failure to require some of the more expensive aspects of food safety. The federal bureaucrats say legislation would be required and the politicians refuse to go there.

So, food safety is compromised by politics. It's the Canadian way where politicians boast that we have the safest food in the world - or, since they've been found out - "our food is among the safest in the world". What they say does not match with what they do or, in this case, fail to do.

And don't buy into the excuse that it would cost governments too much. What's so expensive for governments in requiring companies to ensure the safety of the products they market?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's not what they say, but what they do.

Politicians talk about reducing the regulatory burden.

But in the food industry, they're piling on new regulatory burdens.

Outlines about two more sets were provided by speakers at the Spring Technical Conference put on by the Ontario Food Protection Association in Mississauga today.

Frank Massong
Frank Massong, who joined Paul Valder Consulting three years ago after a career with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, outlined much stiffer regulations governing allergens and in particular the claim that a product is gluten free.

Allen R. Sayler, president of the Center for Food safety and Regulatory Solutions in Virginia, said Canadian companies are about to face a whole new set of Food and Drug Administration regulations and said even companies that don’t have customers in the U.S. will eventually be impacted.

Massong’s chief client is the Canadian Celiac Association and he said it offers to put its logo of compliance on products if companies comply with its standards which will automatically result in compliance with the upcoming Canadian regulations.

One of the major changes is that foods claiming to be gluten free must, in fact, be gluten free. The association, which represents about 30,000 Canadians with severe allergic reactions to gluten and another 300,000 who experience some degree of discomfort, says that up to 20 parts per million can be tolerated by most of its members.

However, Health Canada, which sets the standard, has not announced a tolerance level under the new regulations which take effect Aug. 4. That means that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency could condemn any “gluten-free” product that contains any gluten – i.e. zero tolerance.

What’s more alarming is that any food that does not list wheat, barley, oats, triticale or rye as an ingredient will be deemed to be claiming to be gluten free and could be disciplined if any gluten is found in its products, Massoud warned.

The gluten standard, including the tolerance issue, has been under discussion at Health Canada and with the food industry for at least a decade.

The new regulations add mustard seed to the allergen list. The U.S. doesn’t list either mustard seed or sesame seed as an allergen, so the standard for exporting is different.

Allen R.Sayler 
Sayler said the Food Safety Modernization Act passed last year “is really going to rock the U.S.” and Canadian companies marketing products and ingredients to food processors in the U.S.

And he said eventually “regulatory creep” will result in Canada’s federal and provincial jurisdictions enacting regulations similar to the new ones in this modernization act.

He said there was nothing wrong with the previous Food and Drug Administration Act’s regulations, but there was a lack of enforcement. That and a number of high-profile food-poisoning issues prompted politicians to revamp the legislation.

They were completing their drafting and debating just as the tsunami destroyed nuclear reactors in Japan, so the new act adds radioactivity to the standards the industry must now meet.

He said lead and mercury both carry radioactivity, so food processors should be checking radioactivity levels of raw materials they purchase from suppliers.

He said food processors will be able to avoid a lot of hassles by purchasing from brokers and holding them accountable under traceability standards that are one step back and one step forward. However, he said brokers will be shaken because they’re going to have to check all of their many suppliers and reveal their identities to Food and Drug Administration inspectors and enforcers if and when they ask.

The FDA is gaining far greater authority to demand information and records from food processors, but Sayler said it might not be much different from what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can already require Canadian companies to produce.

Canadian companies will have to register with the Food and Drug Administration to be able to export to the U.S., and will have to renew that registration every two years.

Among registration requirements will be information about employee training and proof that they have been trained plus what amounts to a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) program, although it isn’t called that in the act or regulations. “It just amounts to the same thing,” Sayler said.

He guesses the FDA will be charging a registration fee and guesses it will be about $50. He also expects other, and quite burdensome, fees for recalls. The FDA gains the authority to order a recall; in the past it could pressure companies into a voluntary recall, including issuing a news release about the product and issue that prompted them to request a recall.

When there’s a recall, the store shelf space must be emptied and left empty for two weeks, and there must be a sign in that space saying the product was recalled.

The FDA gains the authority to detain any product it suspects could be a food-poisoning hazard, and to hold it for 30 days. There is an appeal process, but it takes 30 days.

Saylor cited a Toronto study that found that campylobacter bacteria are by far the most common pathogen in foods, followed by salmonellas and yersinia.

Under the upcoming U.S. regulations, companies must report any positive results for harmful bacteria within 48 hours. He expects the laboratories that conduct the testing for companies will be required to provide  copies of the results to the FDA.

He said food processors must have an employee training program, an environment-monitoriong program (eg. swabbing and testing for harmful bacteria), a Good Manufacturing Practices protocol, an allergen control program and documented evidence that they are in compliance with these policies and programs.

He said that the new FDA power to see all records when there’s a recall or problem at a facility might prompt competitors to file a Freedom-of-Information request to see those documents, so he advises companies to “stamp all records confidential, not for public disclosure!”

He said financial, personal, pricing, sales and research data remains confidential and these records do not have to be provided to FDA inspectors.

He said the FDA has yet to reveal almost all of the regulations that will apply to importers – i.e. Canadians – but last July the FDA said all importers will have to meet all of the regulations that will apply to domestic companies, facilities and products.

He advised Canadians to contact the FDA to find out what will be expected of them and to register any concerns they have about those requirements as soon as possible.

One of the issues raised by a questioner is whether the FDA will accept Canadian laboratories that are certified by the Standards Council of Canada.

Sayler recommended that the Standards Council talk to the FDA about lab accreditation and how that applies to its Canadian customers.

Maple Leaf teaches food safety

Mississauga – As unlikely as it seems, food safety professionals look to a sanitation executive at J.M. Schneider Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. for advice on keeping their plants, equipment and products safe.
Schneiders was involved in the biggest food recall in Canadian history when its lunchmate products were identified as responsible for hundreds of sickened school children in the spring of 1998.
Maple Leaf's sanitation chief, Larry Mendes
Eventually 65 people ended up in hospital with severe symptoms and more than 800 cases were confirmed by public health units, giving rise to estimates that upwards of 8,000 Canadians probably suffered some degree of food poisoning.
It was after Maple Leaf Foods bought Schneiders and Larry Mendes moved there to eventually become sanitation programs manager, that Maple Leaf’s Barton Road plant became embroiled in an even bigger food-poisoning scandal that resulted in at least 20 deaths and a $27-million class-action lawsuit settlement.
Despite that – or perhaps because of what he learned through those and other experiences- Mendes has won a number of food-safety and sanitation awards, including from the Ontario Food Protection Association where he was a feature speaker at its Spring Technical Conference at the Mississauga Convention Centre recently.
The Barton Road listeria source was eventually traced to the insides of a meat-slicing machine. The company and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have responded with new protocols for sanitizing those and similar machines.
Mendes stressed careful cleaning of equipment in his presentation, including pictures to show how hollow rollers on conveyors need to be opened, cleaned and sterilized, how every nook and cranny needs to be cleaned and sanitized and how electronic and electric panels needs to be opened for cleaning. At the 28 Maple Leaf plants, sanitation staff now need to put a sticker inside those control panels to indicate when it was cleaned and sanitized and who did it.
Maple Leaf staff also meet weekly now to assess food safety, and the teams include maintenance staff and production staff, not just the sanitation crew.
Mendes stressed the importance of having the chief executive officer and all of the management ranks putting high priority of food safety.
In the United States, a number of companies have ended in bankruptcy when their products have been found responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning, That hasn’t happened in Canada where Schneiders and Maple Leaf remain leading brands.
Mendes said sanitation is “like a hide and seek game, except you can’t see micro-organisms.”
Food processors therefore collect and test swabs to detect harmful bacteria.
Mendes said Maple Leaf tests 230,000 swabs a year, 60,000 of them aerobic plate counts and 60,000 total plate loop counts.
He said “the beauty” of plate loop counts is that the company doesn’t need to report the results to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It is required to report any positive test results for listeria and other harmful bacteria, such as E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella typherium type two.
Mendes said high total plate loop counts have a high correlation with harmful bacteria, so a high-count result prompts the company to do further testing to determine whether there are harmful bacteria in the products or the plant.
He said one new approach to sanitation that is proving highly effective is “heat intervention” which involves high-humidity heating to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 C) for at least 30 minutes or dry heating that hot for at least four hours.
“I’ve never seen equipment that can be sanitized short of heat intervention,” Mendes said, showing pictures of equipment that has been enclosed in bags for the fogging and heat treatment.
He also said “heat interventions is something fairly new in our industry.”
But he also said effective sanitation involves “multiple interventions” such as washing, sanitizing chemicals, thorough staff training and frequent re-training and swabbing in out-of-the-way places such as nooks and crannies, inside electrical and electronic control panels, inside hollow rollers, underneath conveyor belts and in metal equipment channels.
Maple Leaf conducts quarterly audits which include the plant manager.
Maple Leaf has an eight-steps cleaning program now, up from three when Mendes started 32 years ago at Schneiders, and he said it’s a mistake to skip the final step, which is inspection, figuring that the next-shift crew will be doing a quality check and swabs before it starts processing.
“Micro (-organism) control is a battle that food processors can’t afford to lose,” was Mendes’ concluding comment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food miles challenged

Shoppers can be misled about the carbon footprint benefits of buying locally-produced food.
The latest research is from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation of Australia, adding to earlier and similar research in the United Kingdom and North America.
More important than the distance food travels is how it is produced and how far shoppers drive to buy it, says Australia’s main research organization.
''Local food can often have a higher carbon footprint than food from afar,'' says principal researcher Brad Ridoutt.
He says even home-grown vegetables, with ''zero food miles'', do not necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint than those bought in the supermarket.
''With my veggies, I drive to Bunnings to buy fertiliser, and I go away for the weekend and forget to water them, and in the end I only harvest a few things that I can actually eat.
''By contrast, big producers, who can invest in the latest energy-efficient, water-efficient technology, and make use of all the parts of food, can be much more efficient,'' he says.
Of course, transporting food from producer to retailer still burns fossil fuels that release greenhouse gas emissions, in turn accelerating global warming. But freight emissions are only a fraction of those released during production, meaning even imported food, sustainably produced, can have a smaller carbon footprint than local alternatives.
The CSIRO research, focusing on farm and production emissions, as well as and other environmental impacts, should ultimately allow for comparisons between production and freight emissions.
The only Australian study to make this comparison was by Aldi and Planet Ark in in 2010. It found that a brand of Italian olive oil had a carbon footprint about 14 per cent smaller, per 100 millilitres, than that of a local brand, despite travelling about ten times as far, mainly because of its steel tin packaging and low-impact, traditional farm production.
British studies have also shown shoppers are likely to be responsible for fewer emissions if they buy organic fruit shipped from New Zealand, and beans air-freighted from manual farms in Kenya, rather than British equivalents grown in gas-heated greenhouses.
Peter Shawn Taylor, a columnist for the Waterloo Region Record, raised eyebrows two years ago when he wrote a column explaining why strawberries from California sold in local supermarkets have a lower carbon footprint than locally-grown strawberries.

Speaking Tuesday at Farm & Food Care’s annual meeting in Waterloo, David Smith, vice-president for sustainability for Sobeys Inc., said transportation averages less than two per cent of the total carbon footprint for products his supermarket chain markets.

Leafy green campaign to hit Ontario

California’s Leafy Greens Marketing Association has hired a public relations company to launch a campaign in the Canadian market.

Food safety communications guru Dr. Doug Powell of Kansas State University says the association is responding to a number of food poisonings related to California greens, but never made public.

The public relations campaign will include advertising in magazines, newspapers, on television and the internet to tout the safety of California leafy greens.
Spinach has been a food-poisoning culprit

Media people will be invited to tour California facilities in June.
The association is also revamping its website to include recipes and handling information for leafy greens.

Powell says on his website that “data, transparency and creativity are what count.”

“The California Leafy Greens Marketing Association, rather than address a rapidly accumulating number of outbreaks associated with their lettuce and spinach and leafy product that have never been made public – has chosen to boost consumption by educating Canadians on the safety of U.S. greens.
“With that focus, they’ve already lost,” Powell writes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicken board ready to move on allocations

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board is ready to implement new allocations for chicken processors that will feature an end to bringing in live birds from Quebec.

Quebec is ready to do the same on its side of the border.

About 10 per cent of the production in each province has been contracted to processors in the other province. 

There has been a moratorium in place for more than two years preventing any increase in the number of contracts between producers and processors in the two provinces.

However, recently Nadeau Poultry, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maple Lodge Farms of Norval, Ont., has been contracting with Quebec producers to ship their birds to the Nadeau plant in New Brunswick.

It’s not yet clear whether the Quebec board will view this as an Ontario betrayal of the deal to stop trying to contract with Quebec producers.

The Ontario chicken board is in the process of informing its quota-holding members where their birds are to be shipped beginning this fall.

It is also preparing for district meetings to explain what’s happening.

And it is planning an April 26 meeting in Guelph to explain what’s happening to industry partners, such as feed mills, hatcheries and service providers.

The news media is barred from the district and April 26 meeting.

The Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is also refusing to provide information/copies about the strategic plan developed by the Chicken Industry Advisory Committee which the commission chairs and in which it is a partner.

I have filed a Freedom-of-Information request to get the information. I don't expect it to say much besides being in favour of motherhood and apple pie.

A director of the chicken board said it has not yet approved the strategy that’s coming from the Chicken Industry Advisory Committee. 

He described it as an ongoing work in progress.

Galbraith court case begins in November

It will be November before a preliminary hearing, which could take six weeks, will begin on one count of fraud and three of breaches of the Bankruptcy Act against Arlan Galbraith, the self-styled Pigeon King, gets underway in Kitchener.

Justice Gary Hearn set out 15 days in November – Nov. 5 to 9, Nov. 19 to 23 and Nov. 26 to 30, to begin the preliminary hearing.

Assistant Crown Attorney Melissa Ernewein told Hearn she estimates it will take six weeks.

Hearn once again pleaded with Galbraith to hire a lawyer, but Galbraith just as stubbornly said he intends to defend himself.

“It is not in your best interest to be representing yourself,” Hearn told Galbraith.

Galbraith ran a pigeon-breeding business from Waterloo, eventually marketing to investors across Canada and the United States.

He put his Pigeon King International Inc. into receivership in June, 2008 and the next year some investors who had signed contracts with Galbraith before he formed Pigeon King International petitioned him into personal bankruptcy.

Waterloo Region police, with help from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and people in the United States, conducted hundreds of interviews with investors and staff before laying a fraud charge against Galbraith in December, 2010.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dairy leaders could learn from chicken

The men who run the national milk supply management system could learn some lessons from the chicken industry as they ponder plans Agro-Farma Inc. has to produce Greek yogourt in Ontario to market across Canada.

The chicken industry faced a similar situation when the McDonald's restaurant chain was introducing Chicken McNuggets to the Canadian market.

Cuddy Foods Ltd. won the contract to supply the chicken nuggets, but then faced the challenge of getting enough chickens to supply the market.

The men who ran the Canadian Chicken Marketing Agency would not grant Ontario enough quota to meet Cuddy's demand. Those provincial marketing-board directors each wanted a piece of the action for their own province. It was ridiculous.

For a time, Cuddy won federal government approval to import cheaper chicken from the United States to meet its demand. Ontario never did get enough quota to fully supply the Ontario demand for McDonald's so there are, to this day, a myriad of challenges surrounding a fundamental shortage of chickens produced in Ontario.

Agro-Farma is a highly-successful company based in New Berlin, New York state, that introduced a Greek-style yogourt brand called Chobani.

The federal government has granted it temporary permits to ship Chobani from its New York plant to supply the Canadian market. The big Canadian yogourt-making companies are challenging that government approval in federal court; the case is due to be heard April 24.

Now the Ontario Dairy Council has filed an appeal against Agro-Farma's intentions to build a plant in Ontario to supply the Canadian market.

As happened in the case of chicken, the Ontario Dairy Council argues there's not enough milk being produced in Ontario to keep everybody supplied. The council fears that whatever Agro-Farma needs will come out of the supplies that are currently going to competing processors.

So, the obvious way to resolve this is for the national agency to grant Ontario the right to increase milk production enough to meet the needs of Agro-Farma.

Ah, but there we run into the same provincialism that plagued the chicken industry.

That provincialism makes it far too difficult to launch new market-increasing products on a nation-wide scale from a single processing plant in one province.

National supply management would work better if it were, indeed, one national system not broken into 10 or 11 provincial and territorial pieces. But the chances of that happening are remote. It's just too darn sensible.

Elmira biodigester approved

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has approved plans to build a $12-million biodigester in north Elmira to generate electricity.

The proposal was first floated more than two years ago by a group of investors headed by Chuck Martin of the family that had huge success with Martin Feed Mills, then Martin Pet Foods, before it sold that business.

The site for Woolwich Bio-En is near that Martin pet-food plant.

Local residents and Woolwich Township Council oppose the location.

The Ministry of the Environment has imposed a number of restrictions on its approval, including a limit on truck traffic, noise and odours.

The plant would use waste from food-processing companies blended with some farm manure to run the digester.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has been in trouble for over-ruling local municipal governments to allow green-energy projects to get built, including controversial wind farms.

What's so special about green-energy projects? There are lots of developments people don't want in their back yards. Why not use provincial clout to approve all of them?

Or, if that's not such a great idea, then why over-rule municipal councils on green-energy projects?

Dairy Council objects to Agro-Farma

The Ontario Dairy Council has launched an appeal against development plans by Agro-Farma Canada Inc.

The Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has set aside five days in late June for public hearings on the appeal at Milton.

The Council has consistently opposed applications that would increase competition for limited supplies of milk, but has also been losing recent appeals because both the Dairy Farmers of Ontario marketing board and OMAFRA favour companies who aim to increase sales by launching new products that displace imports.

Agro-Farma makes Chobani, a Greek yogourt that is a sensational success in the United States.

It has a temporary permit from the federal government to import Chobani for the Canadian market, but Canada’s major yogourt makers have filed suit in federal court to upset that situation. That case is due to be heard April 24.

The company, based in New Berlin, New York State, wants to open a plant to produce Chobani in Ontario so it won’t need to continue to rely on a risky special status for importing.

The Ontario Dairy Council will argue that there are other processors in Ontario who are producing Greek yogourt, such as for Loblaws President’s Choice label so what Agro-Farma plans to offer is not an entirely new product for the Canadian market.

Until this winter, milk for making yogourt was supplied without limit to processing plants. That changed to include yogourt in a program that rations milk supplies to make various types of dairy products, such as butter and cheeses.

Because of the rationing, the milk that Agro-Farma would use would result in reduced milk supplies for existing processors.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Assurances supply management safe

Andrew MacDougall
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today that he will not sacrifice supply management for dairy and poultry farmers just to get a seat at the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

But Andrew MacDougall did not say what Canada will do if, during the negotiations, it comes down to a trade-off that reduces Canada’s trade barriers against dairy and poultry imports.

"The Canadian government supports supply management," said MacDougall. "The prime minister has been clear that Canada does not negotiate away things to get to the table. The whole point of a negotiation is to be at the table, to have negotiations."

"We go to the negotiating table and that's where we do our work," said MacDougall. "We don't say that we will give away things before we go there. That makes no sense."

So far, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The United States and New Zealand have blocked Canada’s entry into the negotiations, mainly because of Canada’s staunch defense of supply management.

The National Pork Producers Council in the U.S. is also lobbying to keep Canada out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks because of Ontario's risk management program.

MacDougall noted that Canada is in a number of trade negotiations and said they are “no different with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We're just not going to take things off the table just to get to the table," he said.

Harper will arrive in Chile on Monday, where he is likely to push for Canadian involvement in negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is expected to become one of the world's most important free trade agreements.

Harper recently announced that negotiations will begin soon with Japan and Thailand.

There are also negotiations underway with the European Union.

In all three cases, those countries have significant agricultural trade barriers they are just as unwilling to give up as Canadians are to sacrifice supply management. It boils down to the political strength, including urban sympathy, held by the farm lobbies of the countries involved in the negotiations.

The same political power is the likely reason for the failure of the Doha Round of World Trade Negotiations which were, at the outset 10 years ago, designed to give a boost to the poorest nations of the world.

Greed and fear in the richest nations of the world still denies justice for the poor.