Friday, June 29, 2012

Canada wins COOL decision vs. U.S.

The World Trade Organization has upheld Canada’s challenge against the way the United States implemented mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in 2008.

There is no avenue of further appeal, so the United States will have to change its COOL regulations.

The Canadian Pork Council estimates COOL cost hog farmers $1.4 billion because the price of Canadian hogs was depressesed.

Packers and farmers in the U.S. were reluctant to buy Canadian hogs and cattle because they would be required to keep track of them separately as they moved through the marketing chain, including through packing plants and supermarkets.

That meant Canadians had to accept lower prices from U.S. buyers. It also kept more hogs and cattle at home in Canada, increasing supplies enough to depress prices here as well.

Analysts determined that the impact was greater on hog than beef farmers.

The decision is “music to our ears,” said Canadian Pork Council President Jean Guy Vincent.

Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said COOL has been costing Canadian cattlemen about $150 million a year.

“This is the result that we have been seeking,” Unrau said.

 The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization wrote in its 232-page decision that ‘the regulatory distinctions imposed by the COOL measure amount to arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination against imported livestock, such that they cannot be said to be applied in an even –handed manner’.

Fighting COOL has cost Canadian hog and beef farmers a small fortune in legal and consulting fees.

While the final decision looks like a victory for Canadians, it’s the U.S. beef and hog farmers who reaped close to $2 billion worth of benefits and it has been U.S. packers and consumers who have had to pay higher prices than necessary.

One hopes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations will do away with the U.S. ability to play games such as COOL and countervailing duties.

Plain questions ability to deliver crate-free pork

Ron Plain, extension specialist at the University of Missouri, questions whether the pork industry can deliver all of the pork retailers say they want from farms that won’t be using gestation crates for sows.
The list of large-volume retailers has ballooned this spring, but a survey of hog producers indicates their plans for penning sows will fall short of the retailers’ commitments.
Plain notes that a survey of hog operations with more than 1,000 sows revealed that only 17 per cent have loose housing. And he notes that may be for only some, not all, of their sows.
And the same survey indicates that the percentage who will be penning sows two years from now is only 23.
Plain said one of the implications is that retailers who want pork from farms that don’t pen sows in stalls or crates during gestation will need to establish a verification system.
“That is something that's really not much of anything happening on,” Plain said in a recent interview with Farmscape.
“We find that a number of firms are implementing some open pen gestation but there's really not a tracking verification system in place to make sure that consumers are getting what some retailers are saying they're going to deliver,” he said.
“It's not good for retailers or for producers if we confuse customers or promise things that can't yet deliver,” he said.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to steal $1.6 million worth of meat

How do you steal $1.6 million worth of beef?
A delicious steal!

One shipment at a time spread over 250 transactions and two years.

That's what Nick Anderson, crown attorney in Cottonwood County, southern Minnesota, alleges happened there.

Three people have been charged with theft after a truck that was supposed to contain $3,000 worth of beef trimmings was found to be carrying about $21,000 worth of steaks.

More federal handouts

While the federal government was taking criticism for cutting funding for emergency response training and equipment in the wake of the disastrous collapse of a shopping-mall roof in Elliot Lake, one of the Conservative MPs announced the feds have $240,000 for a modest food-processing company in Mississauga.

I don't blame S. Gumpert Co. of Canada for asking for the money, but Harper government priorities seem strange.

Gumpert, which employs 35 people, makes toppings, glazes, icings, baked goods, cereal cake mixes, flavourings, extracts, sauces and fruit and berry pie fillings.

The federal funds are to help it install new packaging equipment.

Gumpert has been in business since the 1930s and, according to internet information, has annual sales of between $5 and $10 million and exports of less than $100,000 a year.

The federal money is from its Agricultural Flexibility Fund (AgriFlexibility) through the AgriProcessing Initiative, a five-year, up to $50-million initiative designed to enhance the competitiveness of the agri-processing sector in Canada.

Wladyslaw Lizon, Conservative MP for Mississauga East–Cooksville, made the announcement at the Gumpert plant today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Seguin challenges industry to speak up

Bob Seguin, executive director of the George Morris Centre, is challenging the agriculture industry to speak up now that the federal government is ready to undertake massive regulatory reform.

Seguin, who for years was the lead policy advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, notes that farm and food-processing-sector leaders have complained long and loud about a stifling regulatory burden.

But now that the government is willing to move, it’s important for the same leaders to articulate exactly what they want while the government is seeking public comment on its proposals.

It’s also important that they are willing to react to the changes to realize efficiencies and to embrace innovation.

Among the federal changes are a number included in the massive, broad-ranging budget that has just passed House of Commons approval, the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act, changes to meat inspection regulations, an end to government restrictions on container sizes and the joint U.S.-Canada Regulatory Co-operative Council which aims to harmonize regulations to facilitate trade.

Seguin said most provinces are also embracing regulatory reform, such as Ontario’s Red Tape Commission.

It is a veritable “feast of regulatory reform,” he says in a commentary released this week. But it could all get stuck in the commentary stage if those who want regulatory burdens eased fail to come well prepared to press their points.

It presents a “unique opportunity to move increased innovation, cost reduction and self-regulation forward to the benefit of Canadian consumers, industry and governments,” he writes.

Protection fund hit by Levinoff-Colbex bankruptcy

The Ontario Beef Financial Protection Program is likely to take a heavy hit from the bankruptcy of Levinoff-Colbex of Longueuil, Que. on May 31.

So far 11 claims totalling $950,000 have been filed.

Quebec farmers pressured Levinoff to sell them to plant after an export ban on Canadian cattle following the discovery in May, 2003, that an Alberta cow died of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow’s disease).

The farmers there, in Ontario and Western Canada, wanted to own packing plants to have a place to market their cull cows. None of the ventures has been able to survive against resumed competition from packers in the United States.

Levinoff-Colbex owes far more than its assets, starting with $7.2 million to Bank Nationale de Canada and followed in order by the Federation des Producteurs de Bovine du Quebec at $20.8 million, employees at $600,000 and others at $5.3 million.

Among those “others” are several livestock auction markets in Ontario that are licenced under the beef financial protection program.

Ontario Stockyards at Cookstown informed receiver R.M. Richter Ltd. that it is owed $121,532, Ottawa Livestock Exchange of Greely $100,828, Vankleek Hill Livestock for $134,688Brussels Livestock Exchange $38,751, Denfield Livestock Exchange $36,968,  Listowel Livestock Exchange $5,194 and the Ontario Livestock Exchange in Waterloo $5,194.

Butch Clare, the disgraced owner of Aylmer Meats who was convicted of selling meat from deadstock, says he is owed $936.13.

P. Quintaine and Son Ltd. of Brandon, Man., is claiming $137,150.

A large number of Quebec truckers are owed money. Ranlyn Transport of Belleville, Ont., says it is owed $12,382.

The receiver is R.S.M. Richter Ltd.

Timing right for Al Mussell

Al Mussell, senior economist at the George Morris Centre, has hit the right timing for another of his commentaries about supply management.

This time, in the midst of news media coverage of the role of supply management in Canada’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, Mussell has released a paper saying Canada need not lose supply management.

He says there are many things the marketing boards can do if and when market access for imports increases and tariffs decline.

Mussell had similar good timing when the Doha Round of World Trade Negotiations looked like it would lead to the demise of supply management.

Then he outlined a proposal for phasing out high-value quota by replacing it with lower-priced quota to produce milk, eggs, chickens, turkey and hatching eggs at lower market prices. 

As the market for high-priced products declined, the market for lower-priced dairy and poultry production would increase and farmers could choose, by their quota decisions, how to manage the transition.

Mussell’s current commentary underlines the real issues for Canadian dairy and poultry farmers as giving up a larger share of the Canadian market to imports and price declines as tariffs are reduced.

The question then becomes whether farmers continue to accept the disciplines of supply management when the benefits have substantially declined.

The main threat then could become some provinces defying national discipline to ramp up their production.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ritz misleads Senate

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz misled the Senate when he was introducing a bill to update food inspection and safety earlier this year.

He said several times that Canada compares favourably with other countries and at one point said we consistently get an A+ rating.

Our most important trading partner, the United States, doesn't use ratings, let alone handing out A+s.

I don’t have all of the other nations’ audit reports of Canada at my disposal, but I do have the audits done by the United States. Canada frankly rates poorly, judging by comments about critical deficiencies that need attention.

Even banana republics, such as Brazil, get better reviews from the American inspectors.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t posted its recent annual reports on Canada; the most recent one is for 2009.

It notes that conditions in three Canadian plants the U.S. auditors visited were so poor that they were banned from exporting to the United States. Three additional plants were deemed seriously deficient.

There is no indication that Canadian Food Inspection Agency executives from head office in Ottawa, who accompany American inspectors during these audits, disagreed with the findings.

There is also no indication that the Canadian plants were shut down until they could meet Canadian standards. They likely kept on grinding out food for an unsuspecting Canadian public.

That is, after all, the way it has been done for decades. I first found evidence of U.S. delisting of Canadian meat-packing plants in 1976, and those Canadian plants kept on marketing to Canadians while they were banned from the U.S. I see no evidence that matters have changed since then.

Ritz also did a tap-dance around $56 million worth of claimed “efficiencies” he intends to realize through this new legislation.

Some Senators quizzed him closely as to whether these are budget cuts, but Ritz insisted they are efficiency gains, not budget cuts.

He also revealed that the federal government took over meat inspection for a couple of Prairie provinces, but was getting paid only 17 cents on every $1 worth of costs. When he called for 100 cents on the dollar, the provinces dropped the feds like a hot potato and resumed their own meat inspection.

I guess A+ doesn't resonate with them.

And so much for a single standard of inspection across Canada. It doesn’t exist, and never has. As Canadians, we pay our taxes and take our chances.

Ritz said the new legislation will improve food safety across Canada. That is a matter of blind faith. 

What improves food safety is food producers and processors committed to food safety, not a smug minister of agriculture making pompous claims in the Senate.

New grain trader

The end of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly has attracted a new competitor into the Canadian market for grains and oilseeds.
Olam International of Singapore is partnering with Lansing Trade Group of Kansas City to launch the business. Olam is a major food-processing company.
The partners in Lansing Olam Canada said their complementary strengths provide "a strong platform to establish a meaningful position in the liberalized western Canadian grains marketplace."

This is just one example of how regulated marketing, including supply management for dairy and poultry farmers, keeps competitors and innovation out of the marketplace. How many opportunities have Canadians lost? We will probably never know.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dr. Vernon Burrows honoured by Chinese

Oat breeder Dr. Vernon Burrows of Ottawa has been honoured with the unveiling of a bronze bust during the China-Canada Agricultural Science and Technology Forum in Baicheng, Jilin Province, China.

Burrows began voluntary consulting at the Baicheng Academy of Agricultural Science more than 14 years ago, helping to develop oat varieties suited to Northern China.

Burrows worked as a scientist for the federal agriculture department in Ottawa for more than 50 years.

I recall writing about his work with the opening sentence: "Mrs. Vernon Burrows doesn’t mind when her husband is late home from work. She knows he’s just out sowing his wild oats.”

To his credit, Dr. Burrows let that stand in an article about how he was crossing commercial oats with wild oats with the aim of developing “dormoats” that could be seeded in the fall and begin germinating as soon as the weather began to turn warm in the spring. That would be early enough to escape some later-season yield-reducing diseases.

Dr. Burrows' numerous professional awards include The Order of Canada (2001), The Friendship Award of China (2003), AAFC's Agcellence Award in the Innovation category (2000), and the Agricultural Institute of Canada's prestigious Grindley Medal (1975).

He registered 27 new oat varieties during his career including innovations such as “naked oats” that have no hulls.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Organic pork is riskier

The "organic is safer" claims took a heavy hit from recent research in Michigan which found a high incidence of Toxoplasma gondi in organically-raised pigs.

T. gondi is a parasite that can infest humans who eat unprocessed pork products.

Researchers who studied 33 organically-raised pigs from two Michigan farms found that 17 were infested with the parasites which can pass to humans who eat their pork.

They pick it up from rooting in outdoors earth; it's part of the organic protocol to let the pigs go outdoors.

The situation with organically-raised pigs contrasts with a steady decline of T. gondi in commercially-raised pigs over the last 20 years, say the researchers.

But don't expect the facts to change the minds of organic purists. They've got the religion!

The enviropigs are dead

The University of Guelph has euthanized the 10 remaining Enviropigs, the 10th generation to be raised from a genetic transfer under the leadership of retired professor Cecil Forsberg.

The pigs have yet to receive government approvals in either the United States or Canada, surely one of the more foolish bureaucratic failures of modern times.

The pigs were engineered to produce phytase in their saliva so they could thrive on diets with less phosphorous and therefore would emit less phosphorous in their manure – a significant environmental gain because Great Lakes efforts to prevent algae blooms are based on reducing phosphorous content.

The province is spending billions on upgrading municipal sewage treatment plants to remove phosphorous and farmers are limiting phosphorous applications to their fields through the Nutrient Management Act and its regulations.

The Enviropig was at one time thought to be of particular interest to the Netherlands where manure is a huge environmental issue.

There were a number of offers to take the pigs, but the university turned them all down because it was held responsible for an onerous list of requirements to ensure security over the pigs. That, too, was another case of bureaucratic overkill.

Part of the reason for killing the pigs and the research was a lack of continued funding from the Ontario Pork marketing board.

Someday when the public comes to understand the benefits and risks involved in this type of genetic engineering, people will look back and laugh at our folly. It will be like our laughing at the people who were scared witless by electricity and radio waves.

Fritz Floto has died

Fritz Floto, Canadian registrar for highly-prized Hanovarian dressage horses and horse breeder who lived near Fergus, has died.

Hanovarian horses are prized for dressage
He was in a difficult situation in the 1980s when he identified about 20 Hanovarian horses that had been imported under false pretenses.

He came to me with the story when I was farm reporter for the Waterloo Region Record. I had worked for the federal agriculture department and suggested that he report the fraud to the feds because it involved a violation of health-related import standards.

Floto identified the true pedigree of these Hanovarian horses through their markings and stature.

They were moved under false pedigrees from a European country where they would have faced lengthy quarantines to enter Canada, and a five-year wait for a single horse to get into Canadian quarantine facilities, to another European country that enjoyed easy trading relationships with the United States.

They were moved to the U.S. under the false pedigrees, then easily entered Canada to live on a farm near Milton.

The illegal importation was worth many thousands of dollars per horse to the Austrian importer.

The agriculture department’s veterinarians ordered the horses back to the United States where officials stood ready to order them back to Europe.

But the Austrian appealed to the courts where Justice James Jerome, a former Liberal speaker of the House of Commons, ruled that the horses could remain at Milton until the quarantine period passed to determine if they were, indeed, a disease risk.

The federal government, with Eugene Whelan in charge of the agriculture department, chose not to appeal so the horses remained in Canada. I always wondered whether the Austrian befriended Whelan to influence the decision to allow the horses to stay.

Floto is survived by two sons, Fred and Bernie.

Politician challenges supply management

A former Liberal MP, Martha Hall Findlay, has broken ranks to call for an end to supply management.

Until now, federal politicians have been unanimous in supporting supply management, but Hall Findlay says that was only because they feared the electoral clout of dairy and poultry farmers.

Now, she says, there are so few quota-holding farmers left that even if they vote in a solid block, they could only change the results in a few, if any, ridings.

Furthermore, she says supply management increases the price of Canadian dairy products to two to three times as high as in the United States, so a lot of Canadian voters would be in favour of ending supply management.

“Even if such a worst-case scenario had happened in 2011 (dairy farmers voting in a solid block), we'd still have a Conservative majority," she said, speaking at a new conference convened by The School of Public Policy.

Hall Findlay said it’s “grossly unfair” that supply management has made it difficult for Canada to negotiate free-trade agreements that would benefit most Canadians.

She also claims that the number of dairy farms has declined by 91 per cent since national dairy-sector supply management began in 1971.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Government censors chicken industry plan

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says it will censor almost everything in a report prepared by a committee it appointed to prepare a plan for the chicken industry.

The Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission appointed the Chicken Industry Advisory Committee last year, took on the chairmanship of the committee and put some of its own members on the committee along with appointees from the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors and the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

The advisory committee is supposed to develop a strategic plan to enhance the competitive future of the Ontario chicken industry.

One of its more immediate tasks has been developing a policy surrounding an upcoming ban on trading live chickens with Quebec.

As part of that policy, one of the most successful plants at developing niche markets – CAMI International Poultry Inc. – has been denied access to Ontario chickens to replace about 700,000 birds per quota period it has been buying from Quebec producers.

All other Ontario processors have had their losses from Quebec replaced by Ontario-grown chickens.

In a letter to me today, assistant deputy minister Karen Chan indicates she intends to censor everything but some parts of the cover page and some parts of two diagrams. The "third parties" have 30 days to appeal that proposal. They are the chicken board and the AOCP, so you could blow me down with a feather if they appeal.

Corinne Johnston Hallahan, who handled the file, said in a telephone interview that the report “is not our document” and therefore release does not fall under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

I countered that the committee was appointed by the government, is chaired by a commission member and was not the brain-child of either the chicken board or the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

Of course, any of you out there who has access to a copy could stuff it in a plain brown envelope and send it to me at 16-50 Bryan Court, Kitchener, N2A 4N4.

Opposition blocks travel

Lemieux in happier times

Pierre Lemieux, Parliamentary secretary to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and MP for Glengarry–Prescott–Russell, is ticked that the Liberal and New Democratic Party members of the agriculture committee voted against a proposal to spend 40 hours travelling Canada to talk to people about co-operatives.

Thank goodness!

Why should Canadian taxpayers fund a vacation jaunt for MPs?

I don't think there's a single idea about co-operatives they would hear out in the boonies that they won't hear during their committee deliberations.

Chicken supplies cut off for 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.

Senate passes Farm Bill

The United States Senate has approved a new Farm Bill to take effect next year and cover five years of farm policy and spending.

But it’s still a long way from becoming law.

The House of Representatives has yet to approve a Farm Bill and then the Senate and House will meet in committee to resolve differences between the two versions.

And after that, it will still need the president’s approval. If he declines, it will take a two-thirds majority to over-ride his veto.

In some ways, the U.S. Farm Bill is more important to Canadian farmers than Canadian farm policies. It has, for example, a major impact on the prices and profitability of growing corn and soybeans which, in turn, underpins the livestock and poultry industries and influences the profitability of growing alternative crops.

The Senate cut more than $23 billion from the Farm Bill budget over the next 10 years, including $6.4 billion from conservation programs.

To gain approval of the cuts to conservation, the Senators call for policies to make conservation programs more effective.

While it’s called the Farm Bill, more than half of the money goes into food stamp and school lunch programs.