Friday, November 30, 2012

Meat irradiation approved by U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval to use ionizing radiation to reduce harmful bacteria in meat and poultry products.

The process would also extend the shelf life of meat and poultry, but the meat industry might not be keen on adopting the technology because of consumer attitudes.

The FDA decision is its response to a petition filed in 1999.

Canada conducted most of the research and development of ionizing radiation for foods, but the Atomic Energy Corporation of Canada was never able to persuade the food manufacturers and processors to use the technology.

A requirement that irradiated food be labeled was the main holdup. Most imported spices are irradiated, but not labeled as having had the treatment, and there is no evidence of consumer concern.

Advocates of irradiation claim it could eliminate harmful bacteria and therefore be far more effective than any process currently in use by the meat and poultry industries.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

CFIA on the hot seat

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is on the hot seat because CTV News has a memo from a CFIA supervisor at the XL Foods Inc. plant at Brooks, Alta., telling his underlings to ignore visible manure contamination on carcasses – except those destined for Japan.

The CFIA says this allegation of a double standard is “categorically false.”

That's a denial I find hard to swallow, given that CTV has the memo.

"Within meat plants, there are specific inspection tasks conducted at various stations and production points in production," the CFIA statement reads.

"The memo referenced simply emphasized this division of labour."

Really? Carcasses destined for Japan need to be clean. Those for further processing in Canada don't. That's a "division of labour"? 

CFIA is fast losing all credibility.

It's statement says "this information was clarified with the union and front line inspection staff over three weeks ago when the union first brought their allegations to the CFIA's attention. It was also explained in detail on two occasions to CTV.

"What the union and CTV fail to mention is that every carcass processed in Canada must meet Canada's high food safety standards.

“There is zero tolerance for any form of contamination, and critical control points to detect problems are in place at multiple points throughout the inspection process," the CFIA said.  

Zero tolerance? Then how come the biggest beef recall in Canadian history was carried out in October when beef from XL Foods was found contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7?

That discovery came first from U.S. inspector checking beef at the border.

Later the CFIA shut down the plant, conducted a thorough audit and identified a number of deficiencies.

Yet the CFIA says now that "if at any time during inspection a potential risk to food safety is detected - regardless of the product’s destination - the line is stopped and product is held until the concern is resolved and product is in compliance."

Double J Poultry loses appeal

Double J Poultry has lost its appeal against the hatching egg marketing commission.

The OMAFRA Appeal Tribunal has ruled that Double J had lots of opportunity to question a policy change before it took effect and eliminated a special status granted previously to the business that produces breeders for two hatching egg operations owned by the partners.

“Any questions that Double J had with respect to any possible change with the grandfathering clause could have been brought forward to the Commission . . .,” the tribunal wrote.
“It is clear that Double J was, and continues to be, involved in the industry and had ample opportunity to raise any issues, questions or request clarification from the Commission with respect to Policy 59.
“Double J appears to be well versed on the policies impacting its operations and the process associated with amending, changing or altering policies,” the tribunal wrote.
Partners James Dowling and James Patton testified that they haven’t changed anything at Double J, so should not be required now to spend about $160,000 to buy quota to maintain previous production volumes.
The policy change eliminated “grandfathering” for a few operations that exempted them from having to buy additional quota.

Clark pessimistic about TPP talks

Veteran trade analyst Peter Clark is pessimistic about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations that Canada joined earlier this year.

He says the United States has taken negotiating positions that are so difficult for the others that these negotiations are in danger of collapsing just as the Doha Round of World Trade Negotiations collapsed last year.

The U.S. needs to become more flexible to win support from the others, Clark says.

As for Canada, he sees little in the negotiations to benefit Canadians, other than to “get inside the tent” of the partnership so it’s not excluded from some markets for some products and services.

He says Canada has been losing manufacturing jobs and that’s a key concern in these negotiations. 

But the U.S. has kept a key provision out of the negotiations – disciplines on state and municipal subsidies and purchasing of supplies and services.

For example, Clark says Memphis, Tennessee, took Electrolux company jobs out of L’Assomption, Quebec, by paying $188 million of the $190 million to build a new factory there.

Caterpillar moved jobs out of Goderich, Ont., because it received subsidies to relocate in the U.S.

The bargaining chip the U.S. offers to get what it wants is access to its markets, Clark said.

That is a powerful incentive for some of the countries at the table, but not for others who already have individual free-trade agreements.

Canadian dairy farmers might be cheering if New Zealand, which is hosting the talks next week, exercises its threat to walk out unless Canada and the U.S. open their dairy markets.

On the other hand, there are complaints about how Australia and New Zealand are using sanitary and phytosanitary regulations to block food imports. Gaining better SPS disciplines would be a major gain for Canadian farmers, making the TPP better than the World Trade Organization's existing rules, he said.

The U.S. wants better access to Pacific markets for rice, but it offers rice producers huge subsidies and they have plenty of water. Pacific-nation farmers want protection for rice.

They would like to gain access to the U.S. sugar market, but U.S. sugar producers, who operate behind relatively high tariffs, don't want to budge.

Clark says the U.S. motives arise out of another set of Pacific trade negotiations from which the U.S. is excluded – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership whose main participants are China, India, Japan and Korea.

Clark says the TPP negotiations could become far more valuable to Canada if Japan is allowed to join. Canada has opened direct trade negotiations with Japan.

Clark says the TPP negotiations right now are “little more than a gift to Washington,” but one that will be resisted by the other nations which explains why he says the talks may go nowhere.

Failure of the TPP negotiations would please Canadian dairy and poultry farmers, just as failure of the Doha Round of World Trade negotiations comforted their anxieties that they would have to reduce the prices they can charge Canadians and suffer significant losses of their profit margins and quota values.

Restaurant chains join lobby vs. ethanol

The National Council of Chain Restaurants has joined the meat industry in the United States in opposing continuation of the mandatory blending of ethanol with gasoline.

The council commissioned a study that indicates the ethanol mandate is costing the restaurant owners $3.2 billion a year because it increases the cost of corn and related foods.

“The use of corn-based ethanol required by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandate has dramatically distorted the market and increased costs throughout the food supply chain,” said NCCR Executive Director Rob Green.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently said after reviewing the policy that it won’t change the mandates which are scheduled to increase to at least 15 per cent ethanol in gasoline.

Canada’s basic standard is five per cent ethanol and there has been nothing as strident as the U.S. lobby against ethanol in Canada.

Genetics opens two new fronts

Genetic researchers have made strides on two fronts this week.

In New York State, researchers have identified about 17 billion base pairs that make up about 90,000 genes in current bread-quality wheats grown around the world.

Wheat is a combination of several ancient grasses and plant breeders have occasionally sought out those grasses for genes that can be incorporated to deliver resistance or tolerance to challenges such as rusts and bugs.

Knowing the genetic code will make plant breeding more precise and hasten improvements.

On the other front, Canadian researchers are confident they will soon develop speedy and accurate genetic tests for pathogenic strains of E. coli and Listeria.

Listeria testing now takes a week in a laboratory. E. coli testing for strains such as 0157:H7 takes about a day.

The aim is to have a test that can produce results in as little as 15 minutes and be conducted on the floor of meat-packing facilities.

E. coli 0157:H7 was the culprit in the record-volume recall of beef from XL Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta., and Listeria monocytogenes in the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. recall of processed meats responsible for the death of at least 21 Canadians.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pork council fires back

The National Pork  Producers Council has fired  back, dismissing Consumer Report magazines findings about pork as “sensationalism” and poor science.

For example, it says there are many strains of harmless Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria and only some that cause food poisoning, but the magazine did not distinguish among them when it reported that 69 per cent of the pork picked up at stores had the bacteria.

It also criticized the magazine for trying to draw a straight-line link between antibiotic-resistant bacteria in pork and humans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dairy farmers hose down EU parliament with milk

BRUSSELS - Dairy farmers sprayed thousands of litres of fresh milk at the European Parliament in Brussels to protest excessive milk quotas and prices below the cost of production, reports Reuters news agency.

Hundreds of farmers and tractors from across Europe gathered in a park near the European Commission and a square in front of the parliament after blocking traffic along several of Brussels' busiest streets.

Then they hosed parliament with milk, drenching the huge marble, glass and steel buildings on a Brussels square;

Some rained on police and passers-by.

Afterwards the farmers lit bales of hay and a pile of tires, sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky.

The European Milk Board, which coordinated the two-day protest, said prices with current quotas were putting small farmers out of business.

Hog price recovery outlook fading

Hopes that hog prices would bounce back next year are fast fading.

The most recent analyses of national hog numbers indicates there has been no huge sell-off of sows.
In fact, during October, there were fewer sows marketed this year than last in the United States;

Paragon Economics founder Steve Meyer and Steiner Consulting Group principal Len Steiner say a large reduction in the breeding herd seems less likely “with each passing week“.

While there may be no sharp reduction in sow numbers, their owners are clearly in weakened financial straits. In Canada, a couple of the largest ones – Big Sky of Saskatchewan and Paragon of Manitoba - are bankrupt, but have been sold to meat-packers Olymel and Maple Leaf Foods.

Ag research changing

Agriculture research is changing, according to a study by economists working for the United States Department of Agriculture.

They have found that:

  • Globally, about half or more of all private investment in food and agricultural research and development has been devoted to food manufacturing rather than input industries and other areas that directly increase agricultural production.

  • Recent increases in private agricultural input research have mostly centered on crops, including farm machinery and some biofuels investments; livestock-related research and crop protection chemicals have experienced less growth.

  • Research into biofuels has become increasingly important, with estimated global investments by private companies at approximately $1.47 billion in 2009.

  • In both crop seed and animal breeding, biotechnology research was an important driver of consolidation in these industries.

  • Private spending contributed to the overall growth in R&D for agricultural in the face of slowing or stagnant public R&D resources, but it addressed a narrower set of research topics and input industries than publicly funded R&D.

  • Public policies have a major influence on private-sector incentives to invest in agricultural research. Intellectual property protection, regulatory frameworks, and especially, public investments in basic science that opens up new technological opportunities, have been important drivers of the growth of private agricultural R&D, reports Meatingplace magazine.

Consumer Reports finds problems with pork

Consumer Reports magazine has found serious problems with U.S. pork.

Its testing of pork picked up at retail outlets indicates there are high risks of food poisoning and there are some low-level illegal residues.

  • Yersinia enterocolitica was found in 69 percent of the tested pork samples. These lesser-known bacteria are estimated to cause foodborne illness in about 100,000 Americans a year and are associated with pork.

  • Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes were found in 3 to 7 percent of samples. Additionally, 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which may indicate fecal contamination and may cause non-foodborne related infections such as urinary-tract infections.

  • Most of the bacteria found were resistant to at least one of the tested antibiotic drugs.

  • Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens.

  • Very low but detectible levels of ractopamine were found in about one-fifth of the samples tested for the drug. The levels were below U.S. and international limits.

  • What Consumer reports called “misleading and unapproved claims” such as “no antibiotic growth promotants” and “no antibiotic residues” were found on some packages of pork and reported to the USDA for investigation.

  • No labels disclose the use of ractopamine.  Government standards for “no antibiotics used” and “no hormones added” claims do not prohibit the use of ractopamine.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stone silo

I came across Matthew Graff and this stone silo at Gallupville, New York State.
It's south-west of Albany. It was built by his wife's great-great-grandfather, probably in the mid 1980s.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CFIA hubris

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to mislead its political bosses into believing they are running one of the world's best food safety systems.

It's nonsense.

They have been telling agriculture ministers the same story for as long as I have been a reporter, which is almost 50 years. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

Every time Canadian meat-packing plants undergo inspection by truly independent and well-informed people - i.e. United States and European officials - a litany of shortcomings is listed. Every time the Canadians agree with the findings and promise to fix things.

This time, in the wake of XL Foods Inc. and beef that food-poisoned people with E. coli 0157:H7 and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and processed meats that poisoned and killed Canadians with Listeria monocytogenes, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and his parliamentary secretary, Pierre Lemieux, are still saying Canada has one of the best food safety inspection bureaucracies in the world.

And they are fond of saying that under their watch, more meat inspectors have been hired.

Malcolm Allen, NDP member from Welland, is not fooled. He asked great questions during third reading of the proposed legislation to consolidate and up-date food safety regulations.

He asked for whistleblower protection. The Tories ignored him. I know from reporting experience that there are conscientious meat inspectors who want the public to know the truth about flaws and failures in the system. But they are afraid of reprisals. They have no protection under the Tories who pass off the critics by saying there are protections under the criminal code.

Let them name just one meat inspection whistleblower who has been confident in that protection. I'm willing to bet that there were concerned meat inspectors at the XL Foods Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. plants, people who have been trained to spot deficiencies. They remained silent.

Allen pointed out that the CFIA has failed to conduct an adequate and professional audit of the very design of its food-safety systems. This was recommended in the report prepared about the Maple Leaf situation, a recommendation that Ritz says the CFIA implemented; Allen pointed out that he's wrong.

Wayne Easter, who was agriculture minister for the Liberals, was ineffectual during the third-reading debate. He, too, was misled by the CFIA brass when he was agriculture minister, and he, too, said at the time that Canada has the best food-safety system in the world.

Yes, Canada has a relatively good food-safety system - on paper. But relative to the best systems in the world, and the best performance in the world, Canada isn't even second rate.

We need, at the very least, strong whistleblower protection so Canadians can be alerted by trained, on-the-job meat inspectors about flaws and deficiencies in the system.

Grantham raises concerns over phosphorous and potash

British investor Jeremy Grantham says two crucial fertilizers – phosphorous and potash – are going to run out some day.

Both are controlled by so few companies and countries that they are “near monopolies,” he says in a column he penned for Nature magazine.

Neither phosphorous nor potash can “be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted,” Grantham wrote.
Canada and some former Russian states have more than 70 per cent of the world’s known potash and Morocco 85 per cent of all high-grade phosphates.

“ It is the most important quasi-monopoly in economic history.
“What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried.
 There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20 to 40 years or we will begin to starve,” Grantham wrote.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dissing turkey dinner

Investopedia, a website on the internet, says “with the skyrocketing price of corn, organic produce and specialty turkeys, your Thanksgiving dinner may become the priciest meal you eat all year. “

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

‘If you're planning to host this season's feast, be prepared for a variety of items to cost more than you remember.” says Investopedia,

‘The USDA reported the average cost per bushel of corn in 2012 to 2013 would increase by $1.20 or more, bringing it over the six dollar mark.

“Why the increase? Combined with crop-damaging weather and supplies diverted to feed livestock, our quantity of edible, available corn has been reduced due to the rise in popularity of ethanol, a fuel made from corn. How will this impact your Thanksgiving dinner?
“Expect to pay more for this harvest staple in its original form, as well as in any product made from corn.

“Some common grocery items using corn include snack foods, salad dressings, soft drink sweeteners” and flour and starch products, says Investopedia.

“While it might be hard to imagine Thanksgiving dinner without corn, keep this pricey veggie (and products made from it) to a minimum for a small reduction in your grocery bill,” the website says.

My wife and I are in Schoharie, New York, on disaster response to flooding this week and she is cooking a Thanksgiving Day turkey for the team. 

And she’s certainly not complaining about the costs because she bought a turkey for 49 cents a pound, milk and butter for less than half the usual price she pays in Ontario, etc., etc.

Investopedia writers need to stop complaining with their mouths full and their bellies buiging.

McGuinty defied the WTO and lost

I told you so.
In a totally predictable decision, the World Trade Organization says Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty broke international trade rules by insisting that solar and wind energy projects have made-in-Ontario components.
McGuinty would only sign his generous 20-year energy purchase agreements with people who bought the made-in-Ontario solar and wind power systems.
Japan and the European Union filed objections and the World Trade Organization has agreed that the Ontario energy policy violates Canada’s trade commitments.
It’s not yet clear what will happen next. If Ontario and Canada refuse to comply, as they are being urged to by the two most powerful unions in the nation, Canada could be penalized with tariffs that Japan and the European Union could put in place against Canadian exports into their markets.
On the other hand, if McGuinty dismantles his policy, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars invested in plants to make solar and wind power systems here might not be able to survive competition from imports.
According to the Green Energy Act, wind and solar projects in Ontario made between 2009 and 2011 must contain at least 25 per cent Ontario-made content, and projects coming on-stream in 2012 must be at least 50 per cent made in Ontario.

Friday, November 16, 2012

McMeekin enacts temporary stable-funding fix

Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin has enacted a temporary fix so the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture can get their hands on money farmers have paid to AgriCorp and designated to the two organizations.

McMeekin’s fix is unlikely to resolve the longer list of issues challenging the Ontario branch of the National Farmers Union.

And the OFA and CFFO will have to make a third application for re-accreditation to the OMAFRA Appeal Tribunal.

The tribunal turned them down twice, apologizing for having the apply the letter of the law.

McMeekin said the temporary regulations should make it possible for the two organizations to gain tribunal approval this time, but said they will still face the longer-term challenge of coming into complete compliance with the law as it stood before these temporary changes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Obama tried to rein in meat packers

The New America Foundation says United States President Barrack Obama planned to rein in the nation’s largest meat packers, but after two years in office, he backed off.

“In an effort that went largely unnoticed by the mainstream press, the Obama administration launched a frontal assault on the giant meat and dairy processing companies that dominate rural America,” the Foundation says.

“In the most far-reaching attempt to reform Big Ag in a half-century, the administration’s top brass went after a system that allows de facto monopolies to bully farmers into contracts, force them into debt, pay them arbitrarily, and leave them powerless, penniless, and afraid to speak out.

“The efforts failed, according to a new Washington Monthly article out by Lina Khanpolicy analyst in the New America Foundation's Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative. 

“As Khan reports, the administration held an unprecedented series of public hearings, inviting farmers to speak out.

“But as soon Big Food reacted, officials retreated in disorder, leaving companies free to treat America's farmers as they please.

 “Khan explains how officials let politics derail reform and details how this gross imbalance of power threatens not merely the livelihood of rural Americans but many of their basic liberties,” the Foundation says.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Going meatless in L.A.

Los Angeles, Calif. – City council has voted unamimously to declare Mondays meatless in the city.
The declaration carries no force of law, but signals where politicians stand.

They did it to “encourage residents to eat a more varied plant-based diet to protect their health, protect animals and protect the environment in the City of Los Angeles,” says the motion they passed.

Meatless Monday is an initiative that is associated with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Jan Perry, one of two council members who proposed the motion, is also calling for a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles. That, she says, is to fight obesity.

Friday, November 9, 2012

CFIA to pounce with new import hurdles

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is proposing a new set of regulations that will make it more difficult to import livestock feed, screenings, seed, forages and field crops.

It also proposes huge increases in fees for export inspections and certificates.

The proposals have caught the industry by surprise.

Dave Buttenham of the Ontario Agri-Businss Association has alerted members.

“It appears that knowledge of this directive and its potential impacts is very limited,” he has written to members.

The deadline for commenting on the proposals was Nov. 5. They are due to take effect Dec. 1.

Karl Mielke, agricultural economist at the University of Guelph, comments that “if this isn't border thickening/closing I don't know what is.”

Importers will need permits for every shipment of seeds and crops, other than rye, barley, triticale, wheat and oats which are governed by the Canadian Grain Commission under separate legislation.

The CFIA says the regulations are needed to protect Canadians from invasions of insects, weeds and diseases.

Inspection fees, posted separately on the CFIA website, are now 50 per minute for seeds, $100 plus $1.80 per hectare for seed growers and $9.60 per hectare for seed corn, $80 per plot of breeder’s seed.

If traders need inspection, it will cost $1 per minute in 15-minute packages.

Buttenham said in an e-mail that the Ontario Agri-Business Association members are “very concerned with the possibility of retaliatory response/reaction by the U.S. to the implementation of this CFIA directive and the potential negative impact it could have on free and open trade of grains and oilseeds between our two countries.”

He said is is “very difficult . . . to provide appropriate comments” on the directive because the CFIA has not addressed issues such as where the noxious weeds of concern are located, what programs are already in place to manage these weeds, and how likely is it that seeds from these weeds could end up on a shipment of grain to Canada.

“The directive does not contain a risk assessment that identifies the cost-benefit of this proposal,” Buttenham wrote.

But he began by saying that “the OABA fully understands the importance of keeping noxious weeds, such as the ones listed (in the directive) as regulated pests . . .”

I am scratching my head, wondering who asked for these regulations. And where, pray tell, is Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on this directive? Is he globe-trotting on another "trade mission" at some tourist destination?