Tuesday, October 30, 2012

U.S. drops meat audits

The United States Department of Agriculture quietly stopped annual audits of meat-packing plants in 2010, so was caught flat-footed by the litany of deficiencies the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) eventually uncovered at the XL Foods Inc. plant at Brooks, Alta.

When the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) conducted its audits, a team of senior inspectors from the CFIA accompanied them and they wrote a joint report on what they found.

It’s possible that this senior CFIA team has also stopped auditing meat-packing plants.

In any case, the FSIS and CFIA are back on the job auditing XL Foods Inc.

Here’s what Dr. Richard Raymond, former United States undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, had to say about the situation.

“A couple of months ago, I was advised by a friend” that FSIS audits of foreign countries were no longer being done every year.

“I went to the FSIS web site for their foreign equivalency audits. The information here shows that for the years 2005-2008, nearly every single exporting country received their annual audit. We did make some exceptions for political unrest, etc.

“Slippage in numbers of audits conducted began in 2009, but during 2010, according to the web site, audits nearly stopped with only four performed.

“Apparently only Brazil, Honduras, Spain and Uruguay received an FSIS visit in 2010. Three of the audits were before April. Brazil received theirs in September 2010. The web site says it was last updated Oct. 6, 2011.

“At the FSIS web site, no countries are listed as having received an FSIS team visit during 2011.

“Taking this one step further, there is only one documented foreign equivalency audit (Brazil’s) listed as having been done since March of 2010. That is 30 months ago—2 ½ long years.

“Canada and Mexico are the two largest exporters of beef products to the United States and New Zealand and Australia export a lot of beef trim to us.

“Australia and New Zealand have excellent food safety systems in place, but they have not been asked to prove it since 2008, four years ago. Lots can happen in that time, like weather disasters, leadership changes and budget cuts.

“How does what happened at XL in Canada, one of our most trusted meat and poultry trading countries, fit into this apparent budget dilemma?”

I routinely check that FSIS website and have noticed that the last audit of Canadian meat-packing plants was for 2009. I inquired a couple of times about when they would be posting more current information, but never got an answer.

I never guessed that they had simply stopped doing the audits. They were, in my opinion, one of the most effective measures to ensure that Canadian packing plants and inspectors were toeing the line. Unfortunately, the Americans always identified major problems and the CFIA always agreed with the findings.

One major difference: Americans were protected from eating meat from those bad actors until they could demonstrate compliance with Canadian standards, but the plants continued right on churning out meat for the Canadian public.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Chicken board restrains price rise

I don't expect consumers to start cheering, but for the second time this fall, Chicken Farmers of Ontario is taking a smaller price increase than warranted by the cost of production formula that usually is a rigid measure that’s followed in setting prices.

The formula indicates prices should go up by 5.15 cents per kilogram, liveweight, for quota period A-114 which begins Saturday, Nov. 3, and runs to Saturday, Dec. 29.

Instead the board has authorized an increase of 4.26 cents. That puts the base price at $1.805 per kilogram.

Rising feed costs are the reason for the formula increase. The board uses a rolling average in its formula, so the peaks reached in the summer are still pushing the formula-based feed cost higher – to $472.51 per tonne, which is 21 per cent higher than at the start of the year.

Corn and soybean prices have retreated from their peaks, so there is the potential for the formula price to moderate for the beginning of next year.

Pressure building to label mechanically-tenderized meat

Pressure is building in Canada to force the meat industry to label mechanically-tenderized meats.

After Edmonton consumers of XL-produced beef that was mechanically tenderized were felled by food poisoning, Health Canada said it’s talking to retailers about labeling.

The science is clear that mechanically-tenderizing meats increases the risk of food poisoning, so it seems obvious that consumers ought to be made fully aware of the increased risk so they can be more cautious to cook the meat thoroughly.

There has been a long-term push by a few concerned people in the United States for labeling regulations there, but this is the first indication from Health Canada that it is actively considering the proposal.

CBC Marketplace featured research by Rick Holley at the University of Manitoba, showing how needles pushed into steaks and roasts to tenderize them before sale also push harmful bacteria from the meat surface to the interior.

Harmful bacteria on the surface are likely to be easily killed by normal cooking or barbecuing, but people who prefer “rare” or “medium” steaks and roasts are likely to be eating active bacteria.

There are 16 confirmed cases of people poisoned by E. coli 0157:H7 in beef from XL Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta.

The company has been forced to recall the largest volume of beef in Canadian history and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the plant for a month so a thorough search for factors that led to the contamination and a cleanup of facilities and procedures.

Management of the plant has changed from the Nilsson family to JBS USA, a Brazilian company that now owns a significant percentage of the beef-processing business in the United States. JBS has an option to buy the XL business, which is the big plant at Brooks, two in the United States and a feedlot near Brooks, for $100 million.

Of the 16 people sickened, a number ate mechanically-tenderized steak marketed by a Costco store in Edmonton. None of the sickened people have died. Lawyers from several provinces are organizing a class-action lawsuit.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gray's lawyer writes

October 26, 2012

BY EMAIL TO:  jromahn@golden.net
Mr. Jim Romahn
300 Keats Way
Waterloo, ON
N2L 6E6

Dear Mr. Romahn:

RE: L.H. Gray & Son Limited
Our File No.: 139567

I write further to your article “Bourdeau seeks criminal charges against Gray” dated October 24, 2012.

You appear to quote from “motions filed in court in Toronto” and specifically “Bourdeau’s motion for criminal charges” with three specific allegations listed.  I am not aware of any such motion filed that contains this information.  Kindly advise as to the source of your information and provide me with a copy.

As has been the case previously, your article contains significant factual errors.

Firstly, if the Court should order that criminal charges are to be laid against the company and/or employees, no arrest warrant would be issued against Mr. Gray.  A Summons would be served on the company and/or employees to attend to speak to the charges.

(I stand by my comment that the court could issue an arrest warrant,)

Secondly, the Court will not “stay the charges” as you suggest.  It will determine if there is merit for a prosecution to proceed and order accordingly.  We expect that the Court will not agree that any charges should be laid and will find the attempt to do so to be without merit.

(I don't understand how she knows what the court will not do.)

Thirdly, your statement that “So far all but one of those [contempt of court] motions has been dropped or dismissed” is also inaccurate.  On June 10, 2011 Mr. Bourdeau, then represented by counsel, consented to an Order arising from a contempt motion brought by my office for breach of an interim Order made by Mr. Justice Lauwers on March 10, 2011 in the context of the main contempt motion.  Mr. Bourdeau agreed to pay a penalty of $500.00 and costs to LH Gray of $1,500.00.  As such, there have been two contempt Orders made, only one of which is under appeal.

(She is correct and I apologize.)

Your articles continue to present biased and inaccurate information.  It is not the subject matter of reasoned journalism.

(What do you, the readers, think?)

Once again we remind you that if the source of your information is Norman Bourdeau, it is our position that he is in breach of the May 30, 2011 Order to which he consented that provides that he will refrain from communicating, directly or indirectly, verbally or in writing, with any members of the public with regards to any allegations of wrongdoing of L.H. Gray, including disseminating any information regarding the company. 

I have not met with Bourdeau, have not received telephone calls from him or e-mails from him. I do have a well-informed source that might surprise her.)

We require you to immediately correct the statements that you have posted regarding the above issues.  I also look forward to your prompt response regarding the source of your information for this article.

Yours very truly,

Created by AccuSoft Corp.
Allison Webster **Electronically signed in absence

Direct:   (519) 661-6780

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dow gains approval for 2,4-D corn

Corn that can tolerate 2,4-D weed spray will be on the Canadian market next year and soybeans will follow in 2015, says Dow AgroSciences.

It received approval from the Canadian government last week to market corn and soybeans with the new trait.

The corn will be marketed under the Enlist label.

The 2,4-D tolerance is stacked on top of glyphosate (Roundup) resistance and insect-resistance traits.

The Canadian approvals have come from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada. They scrutinized data the company provided to gain approvals for food, feed and the environment.

XL promises improved food safety

XL Foods Inc. has made a number of promises to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to improve food safety at the beef-packing plant at Brooks, Alta.

Under JBS USA management, employees will be under watch by a spy camera.

The video camera recording is being done so “management will be notified of discrepancies in performance and will be able to counsel the employee in one-on-one situation with video evaluation results,” the owners, Brian and Lee Nilsson wrote to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The CFIA released the Oct. 18 letter today.

The company is also taking steps to make sure its hot-water wash that is done before a dead animal is gutted is working properly.

That includes increased computerized monitoring of the high-pressure hot-water wash.

The company promises to install a modified pre-evisceration (i.e. pre-gutting) carcass wash cabinet by February.

And the brothers say “third-party experts” will re-design the employee training program.

They also promised to hire more quality-control staff for each shift to monitor sanitary dressing (i.e. carcass trimming) practices.

Amazing, isn't it, what happens when the pressure is on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walmart in the U.K. buys suppliers

Asda Stores Ltd. in the United Kingdom has bought two of its meat suppliers – Forza Foods and Kober Ltd.

Asda is owned by Walmart Stores Inc.

Asda says it bought the companies to reduce its costs by eliminating the middle man.

Forza processes ready-to-eat meats and Kober supplies fresh meat. Both are run by Max Smith-Hilliard who is a big shot in the U.K. hog industry.

Here in Canada, our biggest supermarket chain, Loblaws, squeezed supplier Colonial Cookies of Cambridge until the company could not continue, and then Loblaws took it over last year.

However, in a counter move, the Weston family which controls Loblaws sold its Nielson dairy business to Saputo Inc.

But no matter how you slice or dice it, farmers are mere mice in a field where elephants battle. And the mice get trampled.

Ottawa offers nothing new for distressed hog farmers

The federal government has announced its plans to help hog farmers weather their worst financial crisis in decades, and there’s no new money or programs.

After striking a hog industry task force and holding meetings for more than a month, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is simply pointing to existing programs and inviting hog farmers to tap into that money.

That includes AgriInvest accounts, where hog farmers have $31 million available, interim payments from AgriStability and cash advances of up to $400,000 per farm.

In addition to the crippling-high feed costs that impact all hog farmers across North America, Canadians face additional price-depressing pressure from the United States’ Country-of-Origin Labeling regulations and a Canadian dollar that’s above par with the United States.

Jean-Guy Vincent, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council, said “the work of the Hog Industry Task Team will continue as it explores ways to increase sector competitiveness in the mid to long term.”

The federal government and the Canadian Pork Council are wary of government subsidies that could trigger a severe reaction from U.S. producers who have, in the past, several times persuaded the U.S. government to impose crippling countervailing duties.

The damage to Canadian hog farmers was done before those countervailing duties were overturned.

Bourdeau seeks criminal charges against Gray

I see by motions filed in court in Toronto that whistleblower Norman Bourdeau wants to file criminal charges against L.H. Gray and Son Ltd.

It’s another chapter in the long-standing legal battles in Ontario’s egg industry.

The next step will be a closed-door hearing before a judge to determine whether there is sufficient basis to pursue Bourdeau’s request.

A judge could issue an arrest warrant against owner Bill Gray and/or senior company officials.

The judge might also order the defendants to appear in court to answer to the charges.

Or the judge could stay the charges, in effect putting them on hold to give Bourdeau more time to research and prepare his allegations and Gray’s lawyers more time to prepare responses.

Gray’s lawyers have been on the attack against Bourdeau, basically to muzzle his allegations by filing contempt of court motions. So far all but one of those motions has been dropped or dismissed and Bourdeau has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to take on the one case that resulted in a conviction.

Bourdeau filed another motion in the spring that included all of the allegations against Gray and Burnbrae Farms Ltd. that are part of an ongoing $33-million lawsuit filed against them by Sweda Farms Ltd. and Best Choice Eggs.

Bourdeau added a few more allegations to that list. None of the allegations have yet been tested in court, nor have the defence claims that they have done nothing wrong.

Bourdeau’s motion for criminal charges include:

-       - An allegation that L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. and senior company officials have destroyed evidence and that is in breach of the court order by Justice Peter Lauwers issued March 10, 2010.
-      - An allegation that the “contempt” motions filed by Gray’s lawyers are “an abuse of process with the intent of preventing me from further cooperating with law enforcement and regulatory agencies.”
-       - An allegation that Gray broke the law that protects whistleblowers from threats against an employee for contacting or being prevented from contacting federal or provincial agencies that enforce the law.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

CFIA detains Ontario eggs, beef, chicken

According to its website, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency exercised 11 detention orders on Ontario food companies between April and June this year.

Both of the province’s dominant egg graders were slapped with detention orders – Gray Ridge Eggs Inc. for a “biological hazard” in Grade C eggs at its grading station at Listowel and two detentions at the Burnbrae Farms operation at Mississauga for “other non-compliance” issues.

Beking Poultry Farm of Oxford Station also ran afoul of the “other non-compliance” issues for shell eggs.

DeBoer’s Poultry Inc of Burlington had “various ready to eat and non ready to eat poultry products” detained for “inaccurate or misleading labeling”.

The Stirling Creamery of Belleville had salted butter solids detained because it was contaminated with Listeria bacteria.

Henry H. Misner of Simcoe had battered fish fillets detained for “lack of proper documentation” and Erie Meat Products of Mississauga had boneless skinless chicken breast detained because of metal fragments in the meat.

Premium Brands of Toronto had ready-to-eat sausages detained because of Listeria and Thomas Canning of Maidstone had canned diced tomatoes detained because of mold.

There were six detentions in Atlantic Canada, five in Quebec and four in Western Canada.

Fourteen import shipments were refused entry, ranging from chicken enchilada soup and cooked processed turkey from the United States to dried white mulberries from Turkey.

The CFIA issued 14 fines totaling $140,000 in Atlantic Canada and 71 across Western Canada totaling $714,000 for failure to comply with plant protection regulations.

One fine of $10,000 was levied for infractions of feed regulations against a company in Western Canada.

There were 30 animal transportation fines in Quebec totaling $52,600, two in Ontario for $6,800, 17 in Western Canada for $30,800 and 18 in Atlantic Canada for $49,000.

Eight fines totaling $50,800 were issued for infractions of the Health of Animals Act and 21 fines totaling $7,800 for violations of animal identification regulations.

In all, the CFIA collected more than $1 million in fines during the three months from April to June.

There was a long list of cancellations of organic certifications, including many who simply withdrew from the industry, but also a few whose certification was suspended for failure to meet standards.

Both Kraft Canada Ltd. at Gladstone and Oakville and Strubs Food Corp. withdrew their certifications.

Sprouts for Life had its licence suspended by Pro-Cert, then cancelled.

More information is available on the CFIA website at www.inspection.gc.ca . Check under “accountability”.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Quebec veal processor’s licence suspended

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspended the licence of Écolait, a Quebec veal processing company, for three days this month.

News of the suspension came from a United States publication, Meatingplace, noting that the company lost its permission to export to the U.S.

Canadians may not have been informed because we, frankly, are left to take our chances as the company continues to distribute veal in Canada, but is banned at least temporarily from marketing in the U.S.

The CFIA suspended the licence on Oct. 15 and reinstated it on Oc. 18 when it judged that “certain hygiene requirements” that were not being met have been rectified.

Meatingplace reports that CFIA spokesperson Lisa Gauthier assured it that “there were no food safety risks associated with this situation.” Really? I find that difficult to believe.

The company is located at Saint-Hyacinthe, a major agricultural centre northeast of Montreal.
“Because [the facility] normally ships product to the United States, the CFIA informed U.S. authorities of the license suspension,” Gauthier said in a statement e-mailed to Meatingplace.

“Subsequently, the company was removed from the list of companies eligible to export to the U.S.”

Licence suspensions are rare and the CFIA normally applies them as a last resort and when public safety is at significant risk.

 There were licence suspensions for Maple Leaf Foods Inc. when it couldn’t track down the source of Lysteria monocytogenes at its Barton Road plant in Toronto, and there is one now on the XL Foods Inc. plant at Brooks, Alta.

Meanwhile, the beef recall at XL is mounting to hundreds of tonnes of more than 1,800 products from across North America and 10 other nations.

It’s mostly frozen and is being hauled to the local dump where it’s being buried under CFIA supervision
JBS USA managers are scheduled to meet soon with the XL union leaders to outline when it expects operations to resume and what it will expect from employees.

The company owners, the Nilsson family, gave up on managing the crisis that ensued when E. coli 0157:H7 was identified in its beef products, and called in JBS USA to manage the plant. The deal includes an option to purchase the facility, two packing plants in the United States and a large beef feedlot for $100 million.

Some say the assets are worth between $200 and $300 million and are a good fit for JBS which will be able to slaughter and export from either U.S. or Canadian packing plants.

Class-action lawsuits have been started by several legal firms. So far 16 people's illnesses have been definitely linked to E. coli 0157:H7 in XL beef products. The CFIA says this strain of the toxin-producing E. coli is distinctive.

Cami fighting to get chicken

Welland – Cami International Poultry Inc. is fighting on several fronts to get enough chicken to survive a squeeze put on its business by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board and its partner, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

The two organizations signed an agreement with their Quebec counterparts to stop trade in live chickens between the two provinces.

Part of that agreement was an arrangement to replace birds that Ontario processors were buying in Quebec with birds raised by Ontario farmers, including the ones who can no longer ship their chickens to Quebec processors.

But Cami International Poultry Inc. was not given any Ontario chickens to replace the ones it has been buying from Quebec processors, effectively squeezing it out of the market.

Lawyer Alyssa Tomkins of CazaSaikaley LLP in Ottawa, has filed a constitutional challenge to get chickens for Jimmy Lee, who owns Cami.

On another front, Lee has filed an application for a supplementary import permit which would, if granted, give him the right to import chickens from the United States.

The federal trade officials will ask the chicken marketing boards if they can find enough chickens to satisfy Cami’s application and, if not, he will be able to import birds.

Ironically, those birds will be much cheaper than Ontario chickens raised under the umbrella of supply management. There will be no spin-off benefits for Ontario, such as production on Ontario farms, feed from Ontario mills, chicks from Ontario hatcheries and related industry services.

On a third front, Lee has hired a public relations firm in Ottawa to press his case with federal and provincial politicians and civil servants.

Lee has developed a thriving market supply Hong Kong slaughter protocol birds – head and feet on – through a plant that uses air chilling and hand slaughter.

He has also developed a large and loyal clientele in the Chinese markets in and around Toronto.
Lee said that the Ontario market right now is facing an overall shortage of chicken, so he expects to gain the right to import from the U.S.

The market is tight because that’s the policy of the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors who, together with the Ontario marketing board, tell the national supply-management agency how many chickens they think the Ontario market requires.

There is provision to apply for extra birds for “market development”, but unlike other provinces, the Ontario board rations these extra birds on a pro rata basis which means that the lion’s share goes to the large-volume processors who have already said they don’t want more chicken.

But it also means that small companies with fast-growing niche-market clientele can’t get enough birds for their “market development”.

Frankly, I can't understand how government supervisory bodies, which are supposed to be looking out for the public's interests, can allow the marketing boards and processors to do this. 

But what I do understand is how the marketing boards use blatant intimidation tactics tow cow politicians into bowing to their every whim. 

It's precisely the type of special interest favours that annoy Canadians who pay and pay and pay every time they go grocery shopping or eat out at a restaurant or cafeteria.

Supply management was implemented to protect family farmers, but today it protects the nation's largest food processing companies and a tiny total of farmers who hold chicken quota worth more than $1 million per marketing board member. Some hold quota worth tens of millions.

Chicken board closes meeting

GUELPH – The Chicken Farmers of Ontario invited everyone involved in the chicken industry to a meeting here today, but barred reporters.

The meeting was the final in a series to update chicken farmers about marketing board issues, policies and plans.

The district meetings were for farmers only; today’s meeting was the only one open to a broader community, such as feed millers, chicken processors, service providers and government officials.

Judging by the chicken board’s website and most recent newsletter, they were told that the ban on trading live chickens with Quebec has been implemented smoothly.

There are, however, rumours that CAMI International Poultry Inc. of Welland is preparing a lawsuit, aiming to secure enough chicken to keep the plant operating. A lawsuit would probably include a "stay" that would allow CAMI to continue procuring chickens from Quebec producers who have signed contracts to supply CAMI.

The Ontario chicken board would not grant CAMI birds to replace the Quebec contracts it held; the board granted all other Ontario processors supplies from Ontario farmers to replace birds they were buying from Quebec producers.

The board has never said publicly why it refuses to supply CAMI.

CAMI International has developed a large clientele interested in its Hong Kong style (feet and heads left on) birds, air-chilled processing, hand slaughter and other specialties.

The ban on inter-provincial trade was negotiated by the Ontario and Quebec marketing boards and associations representing chicken-processing companies in both provinces and has been sanctioned by provincial government supervisory bodies for both provinces.

CAMI is not a member of the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors. The association's members include three large companies - Maple Leaf, Maple Lodge and Cargill - that dominate the Ontario and national chicken markets. 

They have consistently tried to limit Ontario chicken production so they will have no trouble marketing all the birds they process. They will not, for example, grant permission for even the smallest competitors to increase their share of birds produced by Ontario farmers to serve niche and local markets.

It’s not clear how the provinces have been able to square their approval of the trading ban in the face of their agreement to pursue free trade.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Whistleblower fired

David Hutton, Canada’s leading whistleblower, has been kicked off of an advisory committee to the federal government’s agency that’s supposed to protect whistleblowers.

Hutton runs a charity called FAIR. It’s mission is “protecting whistleblowers who protect the public interest”.

Hutton has been a thorn in the side of the federal government’s Public Sector Integrity Commission, revealing how the first Harper-government appointee did almost nothing to protect whistleblowers and how the current Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion is not much better.

Dion fired Hutton after Hutton wrote a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper commenting on a federal judge’s ruling that was critical of the commission.

The judge said the commission made so many mistakes on the case under review that they amounted to “a clear breach of the common law duty of procedural fairness”.

Two other organizations are calling for Hutton to be reinstated as a member of the advisory committee.
They are Canadians for Accountability and Democracy Watch.

Among Hutton’s current “clients” are Norman Bourdeau, who took records from L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. that lawyer Donald Good of Ottawa wants to use in a court case to prove there has been cheating on egg grading, price-fixing and a conspiracy among Gray, Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and the Ontario egg marketing board to drive a tiny competitor out of the egg business.

The defendants claim they have done nothing wrong. Both the allegations and defences have yet to be tested in court, but Gray has launched several court actions to try to silence Bourdeau.

Hutton also says he has heard from people involved in the XL Foods Inc. massive beef recall and plant closure who are too afraid to speak up about what they know.