Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hladik “demystifies” farming

Maurice Hladik has written Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork to counter the annoying media criticisms of modern agriculture.

He’s certainly got enough experience to write a book; he grew up on a farm in Central Alberta, gained two economics degrees, worked as agricultural attaché in New Zealand and Germany, and for a cellulostic ethanol company in Ottawa.

Among the issues he “demystifies” are:

- Small farms are disappearing. In fact the average farm size in the U.S. declined from 431 acres in 1997 to 418 acres in 2007 and the percentage of farms of 99 acres or less increased from 49.2 to 54.4 per cent.

- Fertilizer use is increasing. In fact between 1990 and 2005, 17 per cent less nitrogen, 28 per cent less phosphorous and 20 per cent less potash was used to produce a bushel of corn.

- Corporate farming is taking over. In fact the U.S. census found that 86.9 per cent in 1997 and 86.5 per cent in 2007 are owned by individuals or families.

- Organic farming is significant. In fact there are only 8,694 dedicated organic farmers in the U.S.,

- Food miles matter. In fact, much less energy is used to move oranges from Florida or tomatoes from California than to drive the family car to a local farmers’ market or farm. The energy used to prepare a meal in the home is far greater than the energy used in transporting food.

- The food system is broken. In fact, the percentage of the world’s people deemed malnourished declined from 33 in 1969 to 16 per cent in 2010 and the number of adequately-fed people more than doubled form 2.5 to 5.5 billion.

- Organic foods are nutrionally superior. In fact, a thorough review of scientific literature published in 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that organically-produced foods are not superior.

Hladik says he has nothing against organic farmers, but he raises a lot of questions.

For example, he wonders why so few organic farmers have been found guilty of cheating. He says it must be hard to resist the temptation to use pesticides to save a crop being devastated by insects or diseases, especially if inspections are infrequent and hardly any growers are decertified.

He also provides a long list of pesticides that are acceptable to various organic organizations and wonders whether the public knows.

Hladik makes a convincing case in favour of large-scale, modern farming methods. For example, only a farmer growing thousands of acres of grain can afford GPS technology, combines, tractors and no-till drills that result in greater precision, higher yields, reduced soil erosion and less pesticides and commercial fertilizers.

The paperback book is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and iUniverse for $19.95 and in electronic form for $9.99.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Costly U.S. crop insurance

The Chicago Tribune says United States’ crop insurance is a huge ripoff.

“If the facts about the billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted on this boondoggle were widely known, no one would stand for it.” the newspaper says.

Insurance companies and agents skimmed as much federal-government money from the program as farmers claimed in benefits over the last decade - $30 billion each – the newspaper says, citing a study by Iowa State University.

The paper says the program is “poorly understood” and about to be expanded in the Farm Bill currently being crafted by politicians in Washington.

“Unlike practically every other sector of the economy, farming is awash in profits,” the Tribune says.

“The embarrassment of riches has made it difficult to justify any of the usual farm subsidies, especially in light of runaway budget deficits. Big agriculture and its supporters have settled on crop insurance as the means to keep federal dollars flowing.”

The newspaper says most Americans think crop insurance is a safety net against a poor crop, but in fact it offers revenue insurance at 80 per cent.

“The coverage can be used to guarantee that these private businesses lock in a profit.  Any business would love insurance like that, but it would be unaffordable," the Tribune says.

“It would be too expensive for farmers too, were it not for Uncle Sam."

Federal subsidies increased from $1.7 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion last year.

The Tribune says “the Iowa State analysis showed that crop insurance already is so costly that it would be cheaper for taxpayers to give it away.

“By cutting out the middleman, the government could furnish every row-crop farmer in America with free insurance in the event yields fall short.

“The policies would not guarantee revenues. They would cover crop losses, at the full market price — providing the robust 'safety net' that farmers claim is all they ever wanted.

“Compared to the current system, handing out yield insurance would save taxpayers $6 billion over 10 years. It would deliver $5.6 billion more in benefits to producers over the same period, the Iowa State report calculated,” the Tribune says.


GMO’s are safe, researchers conclude

A new research review paper prepared by seven European scientists says genetically-modified crops are safe to eat and nutritionally equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts.

The study has just been published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The research team evaluated the results of 24 long-term food-safety studies of genetically-modified crops.

In the summary, the authors say "the studies... show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed."

Europe banned imports of genetically-modified corn, soybeans and canola in the 1990s, claiming more research was required to determine if they are safe.

Some in the research and business community believe that was a stalling tactic to give European researchers and companies enough time to catch up with the new technology and improved varieties of their own.

If that was the tactic, it backfired because an aroused European public pressured politicians to maintain bans long after research indicated there were either no risks or they are insignificant.

CFIA drops fertilizer testing

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is dropping its near-useless fertilizer sampling and testing program.
The program is voluntary and the majority of vendors and manufacturers did not participate. 
For many years, I have been the only reporter who checked the annual report which revealed that many samples flunked the CFIA standard which was based on accuracy of labels.
The products were judged on the basis of value for money so, for example, they could be woefully short of phosphorous, but if they had too much of the more valuable nitrogen or potash, they would pass muster. 
That would, of course, be no comfort to the buyer who would be getting an unbalanced fertilizer.
The CFIA says it’s going to focus on protecting health and safety and will continue to sample and test fertilizers to verify that they are “safe for humans, plants, animals and the Canadian environment."
I hope you can stifle your guffaws!
CFIA said it will also continue "to verify that products are properly labeled to avoid product misrepresentation in the marketplace and protect consumers."
It says the change "also provides industry with greater flexibility, reduced costs and less red tape."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CFIA finds 99 per cent compliance

It's amazing!

The same day the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) hid data on compliance rates for egg grading in Ontario, it issued a news release to trumpet compliance rates for pesticide and chemical residues in foods.

Incidentally, the results put the lie to organic-movement leaders who claim their food is safer because they don't - or aren't supposed to - use pesticides.

The CFIA released two studies that found more than 99 per cent of a wide variety of food samples tested met Health Canada standards for chemical residues.

The CFIA routinely tests various food products for specific hazards to determine whether they pose a potential health risk to consumers. If a human health risk is found, a public recall notice is issued immediately.

A 2009-2010 study on pesticide residues in fresh fruit and vegetables found that 99.6 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables tested met Health Canada standards for pesticide residues.

This study was funded under the Government of Canada Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan announced in 2007.

The CFIA collected 3,078 samples of apples, small berries, leafy greens and tomatoes and analyzed them for more than 400 different pesticide residues.

All of the apple products met Health Canada standards, despite being a crop that usually is more heavily sprayed than most Canadian crops.

The survey found 99.5 per cent compliance for small berries, 98.5 per cent for leafy greens and 99.6 per cent for tomatoes.

In another CFIA study conducted in 2008-2009 under the National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP), the overall compliance rate for a variety of chemical residues topped 99 per cent which is similar to the results from previous years.

 Based on these results, I'd say the risk to health is less from pesticide and chemical residues than are eggs because, apparently according to electronic data under court protection, up to five per cent of Grade A eggs in Ontario might be cracked or dirty.

Obviously dirty wash water could seep in through the cracks. And who wants shit on eggshells?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Trade deal threatens to kill CAMI Poultry

Welland – CAMI International Poultry Inc. is being squeezed out of business by the no-trade deal recently made between Ontario and Quebec chicken marketing boards, processors and government supervisory agencies.

CAMI International Poulty Inc. will lose an average of 850,000 kilograms of live chicken as a result of the deal.

It’s the only Ontario company being squeezed this way; two others have been granted concessions by a committee chaired by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission and involving the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board and the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors. Some say they were "bought off".

The committee excluded the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association in which CAMI International is a member. 

The chicken board and processors both termed the association and its general manager, John Slot, “disruptive” during a commission hearing last winter when the OIPP sought inclusion in the Ontario Chicken Industry Advisory Committee. The small guys and Slot were denied.

It is clear to me that the chicken industry in Ontario is no longer run by the farmers it was intended to serve, but by the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

And it's also clear that they not only want to get rid of troublesome competition from the likes of CAMI International Poultry Inc., but also to reduce their costs of buying chicken from farmers.

“I don’t know why,” Jimmy Lee, one of two partners who own CAMI, said about his failure to persuade the industry to keep his plant supplied. 

“Maybe I’m a second-class citizen because I’m Chinese.”

He was, in fact, born in Trinidad and immigrated at a young age and helped his father, Johnson Lee, develop a chicken-processing business from scratch, starting by slaughtering live birds for Chinese clients at the Kensington Market in Toronto.

Johnson developed that into a thriving business, Lee’s Poultry, and sold it to Sargent Farms in Milton in 1995.

Jimmy worked for Sargent Farms for five years and then, recognizing a demand for Hong Kong style fresh chicken, decided to launch CAMI International in Welland.

He and two partners took advantage of the chicken board’s new entrant program for processors and obtained 250,000 kilograms of supply per six-week quota period. It took two years to build the 25,000-square-foot plant which opened in 2005.

Demand proved so strong, especially from the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area, that Lee was unable to get enough birds in Ontario, so he began contracting with Quebec producers. And offering premiums to persuade them to move from their Quebec processors to CAMI.

He was not alone and soon the Ontario demand for Quebec birds left Quebec processors short and they began buying Ontario-grown birds, in both cases offering premiums to farmers to get them to switch from their home-province processors. Eventually 10 per cent of production in each province was going to processors in the other province, and at substantial premiums to the price the supply-management marketing-board system can justify.

The marketing boards in Ontario and Quebec put a lid on that cross-border trade, declaring a moratorium to prevent any increases in out-of-province contracting. 

That moratorium was eventually thrown out by a Quebec court last winter, but by then the two provincial marketing boards, processor associations and provincial supervisory agencies had agreed in principle to stop all cross-border trade in live birds.

That deal is due to take effect this fall which is when CAMI will no longer be able to buy birds from its loyal producers in Quebec.

It's hard to imagine that the courts will uphold this new deal if anybody has the courage and resources to file a challenge. It is, after all, a flagrant breach of an agreement premiers reached to reduce and eventually eliminate inter-provincial trade barriers.

 CAMI has bought between 700,000 and one million kilograms per quota period, averaging 850,000 kilograms per six-week quota period.

The partners involved in the Ontario part of the trade deal have refused to grant Lee and his CAMI business any replacement birds from Ontario production. All of the other processors who were buying Quebec birds are getting replacements from Ontario.

This deal is doubly unfair because there are more birds being produced in Ontario than the large-volume processors want. 

Every quota period they have argued that Ontario needs only the “base” allocation the national agency assigns, and they don’t want any additional “market development” allocation.

The Ontario chicken board has, however, been routinely requesting - and has been granted - two per cent more for market development. But it assigns that extra quota on a pro rata basis, meaning every processor gets two per cent more.

That means the processors who said they don't want these extra birds are getting them, yet they won’t yield those birds to CAMI. 

There are about 1.4 million kilograms of market development allocated to Ontario every quota period, more than enough to satisfy Lee’s request for 850,000 kilograms per quota period.

Lee is frustrated because he points out that “I played by the rules. I did nothing illegal” in signing up Quebec producers to fill the demand from his eager customers.

He has worked hard to carve out his niche in the Ontario market. CAMI is the only federally-inspected chicken-processing plant that can supply air-chilled Hong Kong-style fresh chicken, Halal-protocol air-chilled chicken, including roaster size birds and the only plant that provides hand-slaughtered Halal-protocol chicken.

Were it not for marketing board and other restrictions that make it virtually impossible to innovate in the chicken industry in Ontario, CAMI would be exploring market opportunities in other countries, including China.

While the federal and provincial governments routinely hand out grants to other companies to generate more jobs – eg. $19 million for Dr. Oetker to build a $113-million frozen pizza plant at London, Ont. – Lee finds it unfair that neither federal nor provincial politicians or bureaucrats have been willing to lift a finger to save 60 to 65 jobs at CAMI.

Lee said he never took any government loans or grants to build his plant.

Cericola Farms faced a similar fate, but left the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association on the eve of the association’s appeal to the commission, then hired a lawyer and threatened the chicken industry with court challenges and was subsequently satisfied with more birds from Ontario farms to offset its loss of Quebec birds. Cericola Farms also joined the big processors as a member of the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

Robert LaPlante, a small-scale processor in the Ottawa Valley, also threatened to raise a ruckus. He filed an appeal to the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal, but dropped that appeal when he was offered a deal.

Only CAMI has been left out. Slot thinks it may be retaliation for his aggressive pursuit of fair dealing for the small-scale processors. 

"They don't like me," Slot says, although he insists that he has always worked hard to be a team player and to negotiate workable deals for the chicken industry.

During the commission hearing, he was able to demonstrate that far from being a disruptive force, he was co-operating with the chicken board to come up with a new system for sharing scarce chicken supplies among processors. He and the chicken board worked out a satisfactory proposal, but it was the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors that refused to negotiate.

After that the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, the government-appointed supervisory body for marketing boards, muscled the big processors to negotiate via an Ontario Chicken Industry Advisory Committee.

The commission provided a couple of members and the committee chairman, Elmer Buchanan, vice-chairman of the commission and a former Ontario agriculture minister under the NDP Bob Rae government.

That committee struck the new deal on sharing Ontario’s chicken supplies, but won't reveal details. The chicken board has not returned calls asking for a briefing and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission has refused to provide a copy of the committee’s proposals and agreement, if there is a written one.

I have filed an application under Freedom-of-Information legislation, but the agriculture ministry says it needs more than the usual 60 days to process that request. Maybe they have to hunt really hard to find copies.

Recall that the small processors’ association has been excluded from this committee, so they have no voice in the negotiations for chicken supplies.

Lee said what’s being done is an infringement of his constitutional rights and a violation of the federal Competition Act, but he hasn’t got the time and money to hire lawyers to fight for survival via appeals and court challenges.

I think he's also too much of a nice guy, trusting that truth, honesty and fairness will prevail. That has never worked before with industry bullies such as Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. and Maple Leaf Poultry Inc., which dominate the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors. Or the marketing board.

He says the Ontario poultry-industry club is using the excuse that he sold 150,000 of the 250,000 kilograms of Ontario chicken supply he was granted under the new entrant program. He has explained that he and his remaining partner sold their rights to 150,000 kilograms only because they needed cash to buy out the third partner, John Vanderzanden.

It is, in other words, the flimsiest of excuses for running a successful company out of business, leaving hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese consumers without a supply of their favourite style of chicken.

Slot said he’s determined to fight for CAMI’s survival. “Just wait and see what I’m going to do. You’re going to be surprised.”

Slot, who is a former chairman of the Ontario chicken board, doesn't scare easily.


Organic consumers “insufferable”

Psychologist Kendall Erskine has found that people can become self-righteous snobs about their diets.

“After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods, or control foods, participants (on his study) who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods,” he writes in a research paper published by the Journal of Psychological and Personality Science.

Ferocious Eugene Whelan
Former Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan used to say “eating beef makes you ferocious” when he was battling ranchers opposed to his proposal to put beef production under supply management.

He had scientists at the Research Branch searching the research literature to back his claim after the late John T. Schmidt of the Calgary Herald published Whelan’s comments during a speech there.

Cartoonists ridiculed Whelan who never did back down, even after the literature search failed to turn up anything to back Whelan’s comment.

Kendall did the research and the professor at Loyala University says “these results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sow comfort

With all of the pressure on hog farmers to get sows out of gestation crates, perhaps they could learn something from dairy farmers.

Many dairy farmers are learning that paying attention to cow comfort puts more milk in the bulk tank and more money in the bank.

It also reduces stress, improves health and lowers costs.

Most dairy farmers have free-stall housing and they add to cow comfort by making sure the stalls are soft and dry - some even use air mattresses - and improving the footing in the area where cows walk free.

How about free-stall sow housing? It would enable hog farmers to keep their stalls, but they would have to open them up so sows could back out whenever they wish.

It might mean providing some space where sows can walk free, but that should cost a lot less than moving to penning. 

Free-stall housing might also provide an escape for sows that are being bullied.

What's really required is the change in attitude that has gripped dairy farmers, a change to search for ways to improve cow comfort. So what do sows need to feel more comfortable?

And if hog farmers can find it, then they will also have taken the high moral ground from the vegans and activists who are exploiting ignorance to force their agendas on farmers.

French farm organization approved

While the tribunal turned down the three major farm organizations, it has approved the special arrangement for the Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens.

The organization for French-language farmers receives special funding under Section 17 of the Farm Business Registration Act.

The Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal posted its decision on its website today, indicating that the Union has been re-certified until November, 2014.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National Farmers Union – Ontario have all been denied re-certification.

The tribunal wants all of them to provide a process by which farmers will indicate explicitly that they want the annual $195 Farm Business Registration fee to be directed to the organization they choose and to become a member of that organization.

The provision to apply for a refund from the chosen organization remains in effect.

The tribunal has also ruled that none of the three provided an audited financial statement within 10 days of its annual general meeting and ordered all three to provide more information about how they meet the requirement to direct 25 per cent of the revenues derived under the Act to locals.

The National Farmers Union was ordered to sever some of the management ties its head-office staff in Saskatoon has exercised over the Ontario branch.

Ann Slater, head of the Ontario branch, says the election procedure was corrected during the last annual meeting this March. The national organization has been counting on Ontario for the lion’s share of its revenues. The tribunal made clear that the Ontario branch needs to have autonomy.

The Farm Business Registration Act makes no provision for appeals from tribunal decisions.

The legislation setting up the tribunal does allow for appeals of most of its decisions to the Minister of Agriculture and to divisional court.
The three organizations plan to meet with OMAFRA officials to sort out how to deal with the tribunal decisions.

Kirk Walsedt, a lawyer, is chairman of the commission. His term expires this month. The others who listened during public hearings were Jane Sadler Richards and Mary Field.

A different set of tribunal members was in charge of the public hearings for the Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens – Marthanne Robson and Denis Perrault.

The denials for the three main organizations are the first time the tribunal has failed to grant re-certifications.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Powell shoots, scores - again!

The sanctimony gets rich listening to self-proclaimed environmentalists or cost-cutters or advocates burning up carbon and racking up frequent-flier points to spread their gospel.
Canadians are apparently upset that Bill Teeter, who works for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency out of Guelph, Ont., travelled to Ottawa 45 times between January 18 and December 22, 2011, racking up bills in excess of $100,000 on a mission to uncover ways to trim government spending.
Global Winnipeg thinks the bad part is Teeter claimed $446.57 in hospitality expenses in 2011, shopping at Costco, A & W, a local shawarma restaurant, Canadian Tire and Boston Pizza to host three meals with government officials.
This guy screams Canadiana and sir, I salute your austerity. He probably even kept the Canadian Tire money for himself, maybe accumulating enough to buy a Tim Hortons coffee.
The bad part is this: “Teeter had a team of 14 people in Ottawa, working with secret documents that could neither be transferred over networks nor transported from Ottawa, a spokesman for the CFIA said. “
Why does the taxpayer-funded food agency have so many secret documents?
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Farmers want share of petroleum riches

The Huffington Post has a story about farmers who are jealous and frustrated by New York State’s moratorium on fracking to discover and exploit petroleum reserves.
There is also a moratorium in Quebec where there are indications that there is more than enough energy underground to meet the province’s requirements for oil and natural gas.
“When Dan Fitzsimmons looks across the Susquehanna River and sees the flares of Pennsylvania gas wells, he thinks bitterly of the riches beneath his own land locked up by the heated debate that has kept hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of New York,” begins the article in the Huffington Post.
"I go over the border and see people planting orchards, buying tractors, putting money back in their land," said Fitzsimmons, a Binghamton landowner who heads the 70,000-member Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. "We'd like to do that too, but instead we struggle to pay the taxes and to hang onto our farms."
(My wife and I are going to Binghamton in June to help with disaster relief efforts, mainly in rural areas hit by Hurricane Isadore in September.)
While New York state has had a moratorium on shale gas development for four years while the Department of Environmental Conservation completes an environmental impact review, thousands of wells have gone into production in Pennsylvania. Both states, along with Ohio and West Virginia, overlie the vast Marcellus Shale deposit, which has been made productive by the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking.

Oetker pizza gets big grants

Dr. August Oetker

In another waste of taxpayers' money, the federal government today announced it's granting $12 million to Dr. Oetker to build a frozen-pizza production and distribution centre at London, Ont.

The German company has already gained $7 million from the provincial government.

I don't know how much the City of London has invested in providing services or concessions.

The facility will be Oetker's first manufacturing plant in North America.

The federal money comes from two sources - $10 million from the Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario which falls under the purview of cabinet minister Gary Goodyear and $2 million from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which is Gerry Ritz's bailiwick.

The provincial grant drew criticism from an association representing restaurateurs who don't appreciate their tax money being used to generate increased competition.

The company says the total investment will be $113 million and will generate more than 300 jobs.

Dr. Oetker was actually a real doctor who launched production in Germany in 1891.

So who thinks Oetker would not have invested in a new plant at London had it not been for these grants?

And why don't we require these grant-receiving companies to give us shares in return for the grants? That way, if these really are great investment opportunities, taxpayers' could smile about getting some return on their investments.