Thursday, January 31, 2013

CAMI being starved out

Welland – Politics and bureaucracy are starving the CAMI International Poultry Inc. chicken-processing plant here out of business.

The politics is a marketing board agreement between Ontario and Quebec that has cut off CAMI’s access to chicken farmers in Quebec.

And the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board is refusing to supply the chicken that was coming from Quebec with Ontario-grown birds, even though it has done that for all other Ontario chicken-processing companies.

That issue is under a constitutional challenge, but the court date originally scheduled for February has been pushed back to April. The issue is restraint of free trade among the provinces.

The bureaucracy is a combination of officials in the federal trade department who deal with applications to import when the Canadian market can’t supply what’s required, and those officials asking the national supply management system managers whether they can find the required chicken.

Jimmy Lee, owner of CAMI, asked for a supplementary import permit so he could supply his clients with New York dressed chicken – i.e. head and feet on.

The federal trade department turned him down on the basis that Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. of Norval could supply dressed chicken.

“But it’s not the same product at all,” says Lee, because the head and feet have been removed.

Lee’s lawyer has applied for a judicial review of that decision.

Lee notes that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has worked out a deal with the national chicken industry that allows chicken parts to be used in place of whole birds when considering an application for a supplementary import permit, and vice versa.

But there is no substitute in Canada for New York dressed chicken because CAMI International Poultry Inc. is the only processor doing them,  Lee said.

New York dressed chicken is popular with some ethnic communities, especially Chinese.

Chinese New Year is fast approaching on Feb. 10 and Lee wants to get chicken in the week prior to the festival to keep his many customers supplied.

He would ideally like to have live birds.

“We’re in a bind,” Lee said.

What I'd like to know is who is enforcing the federal and provincial governments' requirement that the marketing boards keep the Canadian market supplied. It's part of the bargain - what the Canadian public gets in return for allowing farmers to control production volumes to achieve consistent and relatively high prices.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Produce and poultry the main sources of food poisonings

Produce – specifically leafy greens – are now the main source of food poisonings in the United States, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Food safety communications guru Dr.Doug Powell says this is not surprising since produce is eaten fresh, so it gets no high-temperature cooking to kill harmful bacteria.

And if leafy greens are contaminated, once they are in the kitchen they can spread to other foods.

“This is nothing new, and nothing to be scared of,” writes Powell for his Barblog internet service.

“It means that food safety starts on the farm, and goes all the way through to the fork.”

He is critical of farmers and their organizations who claim food safety is important to them, yet provide no data to back up their claims.

He cites California leafy-greens growers as an example and says “for the number of outbreaks, for the number of severely ill and dead, for the decade of inaction, you don’t get to lecture Americans about how it’s a shared responsibility” of growers and consumers.

“Take care of your own stuff, admit when California leafy greens are involved in outbreaks instead of stalling and obstructing, and if you’re program is so great, publish all test results and market food safety at retail,” Powell wrote.

Otherwise, save the morality lectures and go back to growing crops, making money, and try not to make people barf.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are more than nine million cases of food poisoning a year and found that produce is responsible in 46 per cent of those cases.

The Center says the produce and poultry industries need to take measures to prevent contamination.         

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bob Evans sells Mimi’s Café

The Bob Evans restaurant chain is selling its Mimiès Café division to LeDuff  America. It bought the chain, with head offices in California, in 2004.

LeDuff owns chains of café bakeries, coffee houses and boulangeries across North America. It is a subsidiary of Groupe LaDuff SA of France.

Bob Evans is a hog farmer who started a restaurant to increase his profits at a time when hog prices were in the dumps.

I interviewed him at the time and he said owning restaurants was a poor way to bolster hog-farming profits.

He said the volume of pork sold was relatively small, even though he made sure his menus included lots of dishes featuring pork and bacon.

I interviewed him for an article assigned by the late Ginty Jocius when he took over management of Playboar magazine from Tom Hagey of Breslau.

The feature included interview with the Ontario Pork marketing board, which opened a basement-level restaurant in the theatre district of downtown Toronto, and hog farmer Ross Shantz who bought a hamburger joint near the two universities in Waterloo.

Neither the pork board nor Shantz made enough money to justify their investments, so they got out of the restaurant business.

Evans, of course, thrived and developed a national chain before he retired. He died in 2007.
The business has revenues of $1.75 billion a year from 715 restaurants under the  Bob Evans and Owens banners.

Bob Evans started making and marketing sausages in 1948 from the family farm at Gallipo, Illinois.
Next he set up a 12-stool diner on the farm; today that site is a company heritage restaurant that can seat up to 134 people.

But it’s still no big deal as a way to make money from farming hogs.

Incidentally, Playboar was a delightful spoof on Playboy magazine.

The article about the restaurants won a national newspaper award.

Every issue of Playboar featured a nearly-nude sow as its centerfold and at least one piece of serious journalism per issue – just like Playboy.

Jocius and Hagey also started Cowsmopolitan for dairy farmers. Sadly, neither one survived. They probably needed to hire better freelance journalists.

Whelan appointed Justice of the Peace

Susan Whelan, a vice-chair at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal, has been appointed a justice of the peace in her home community of Amherstburg, near Windsor.

She has been a tribunal member since Feb. 3, 2010, and her term runs until Feb. 2, 2015.

She has also been executive director of The Rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, a position she resigned when she learned of her appointment as justice of the peace.

She has held the post for nearly two years. The controversial property is considered prime development land, but people wanted it preserved, so they raised money and arranged to keep it from development.

It was farmed and the owners willed it to the University of Guelph, intending it to be used as a research centre.

The university decided it didn’t need the property, didn’t want to maintain it, so put it up for sale.

Whelan is a daughter of former agriculture minister and Senator Eugene Whelan, was elected in the same riding he held and served as the cabinet minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency. She is a lawyer.

Her appointment is effective Feb. 5.

Chicken vaccination urged to counter salmonella

Dr. Richard Raymond, former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety in the United States, says chickens ought to be vaccinated against salmonella to reduce the incidence of human food poisoning.

He says there could be a significant reduction in the current rate of about 1.4 million cases a year in the U.S. Canada usually estimates its incidence at about 10 per cent of the U.S. incidence, which would mean about 140,000 salmonella-related food poisonings a year.

Raymond notes that in the United Kingdom, the incidence of salmonella food poisoning dropped from 1.6 per 1,000 people in 1996 to 0.2 per 1,000 people in 2008 and that laboratory-confirmed cases dropped from 18,000 in 1993 to 459 in 2010.

The chicken and egg farmers adopted voluntary vaccination which led to the decline in food poisoning.

In North America, campylobacter remains the most prevalent harmful bacteria in chicken that reaches retail counters.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Commission calls for secrecy on egg issues

Geri Kamenz
Geri Kamenz, chairman of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Council, has called for secrecy surrounding submissions it has received from lawyers for L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board and Verified Eggs and from whistleblower Norman Bourdeau.

The submissions relate to calls from lawyer Donald Good, acting for Verified Eggs, and Bourdeau for a commission investigation into the egg marketing board.

Kamenz has written to all of them, asking that they maintain strict confidentiality of what they have submitted and the content of submissions the others have made and which have been circulated to them.

Kamenz’s letter came after Webster wrote to the commission requesting confidentiality.

Alison Webster, lawyer for Gray, is also seeking a court order to seal documents that were filed in court in Toronto last year. Most of what’s in those court documents has appeared on this website 
Webster failed in her bid to obtain a speedy sealing order at the beginning of January, She was told she can’t simply ask for everything to be sealed – i.e. kept from the public – but needs to provide a list, with reasons, of the items she wants sealed.

Webster has argued that making the information public will harm the reputation of her client, L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., which is the second-largest egg business in Ontario and Canada.

Kamenz has not yet tipped his hand on whether the commission will conduct an inquiry.

He does mention in his letters that many of the documents that would be pertinent to an inquiry are under a court sealing order that Webster successfully requested about 18 months ago.

Since then, Good has filed new documents claiming that Gray, the egg board and Burnbrae Farms Ltd. were involved in a conspiracy to drive Svante Linde and his Best Choice Eggs company out of the egg-grading business. Good’s filing also accuses them of breaching the Competition Act and of marketing under-grade eggs in Grade A egg cartons.

The three accused have denied any wrongdoing. Both the allegations and denials have yet to be tested in court.

Kamenz’s letters were released in response to an application under the Freedom of Information Act.
Requests for the correspondence from Good, Bourdeau and the egg board are still in process.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The politics of food safety

The politics of food safety are just plain weird in the United States.

There is a new Produce Safety rule out for public comment, and it seems to me that it's more about business and politics than food safety.

How do they justify exempting small businesses from the new rules? Surely not on the basis of food safety. In fact, some of the small operations are likely to be ignorant about even elementary food safety practices and risks.

How do they justify exempting some food processors on the basis of employing fewer than 500 people. Is it safer with 499 than with 501? 

Why do they offer various degrees of exemptions from the rules based on annual sales of $250,000, $500,000 and $1 million? 

Why are peanuts and tree nuts considered low risk?

Why are chopping, shelling, salting, drying, grinding, mixing, and packing food considered low-risk activities, but not bacteria-destroying activities such as baking, boiling, cooking, concentration, evaporation, and roasting?

I'd like to hear or see the politics behind those distinctions.

Ah, but if the U.S. goes ahead with this proposed set of rules, watch the Canadian produce industry fall in line if for no other reason than to preserve export sales to the U.S. 

But, then again, the Harper government might simply say "me, too." 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Paylean banned by Russia

Russia is threatening to ban fresh chilled pork from Canada and the United States beginning Feb. 4.

Ractopamine, marketed under the brand name Paylean,  is the reason for Russia’s threats, even though Canadians have promised that they will implement protocols to ensure that pork for Russia is from hogs that have never been administered the growth promotant.

Canada has told the Russians it can comply by Feb. 28. The United States has made no similar promises.

Most of North American pork exports to Russia are frozen and Russia insists that it must also be from hogs that have not been administered ractopamine.

The U.S. reports record pork exports to Russia of $308 million since November.

Food fraud increasing

There has been a sharp increase in reports of food fraud, according to Dr. Jeffrey Moore of US Pharmacopeial Convention.

The organization collects reports of food fraud and says that it had about 1,300 on file for the 30 years before 2010, but found 800 new reports in the last two years.

Increased concerns about food safety may be a factor in the increase in reports.

Milk, olive oil and spices are the most likely products to be victims of fraud, usually through dilution.

In India, for example, authorities discovered milk diluted with hydrogen peroxide, detergent and urea and in South America the fat content was boosted with vegetable oils.

Olive oil is commonly diluted with lower-quality oil, including waste cooking oil in China.

Other fraud victims have been seafood, lemon juice and tea.

Canadian investigations have revealed that seafood is often not the fish species advertised, but a cheaper substitute.

In Britain, tea has been found to be spiced with lawn clippings or ferns so it seems to be herbal tea.

The most recent food fraud case is Irish meats that are supposed to be beef, but contain the DNA of horsemeat and pork. One hamburger sold by a leading supermarket chain was found to have 29 per cent horsemeat.

Canadian meat inspectors have in the past identified kangaroo meat in shipments of beef from Australia.

Melamine was a big issue in Chinese products imported by a Canadian pet-food manufacturer who was financially-crippled by a huge recall. Melamine has slso been a huge scandal in infant formulas sold in China.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Brookshaw blames Loblaws

According to a report by colleague Frances Anderson of Ontario Farmer publications, Scott Brookshaw told a zone meeting of egg producers that supermarket-chain specials play havoc with egg demand.

He said a Loblaws' special increased demand five-fold just before Christmas.

And he said now that people have stocked up on eggs, demand has plunged in January.

I wish I had been on the agenda at that meeting. I would have asked Brookshaw whether it was Loblaws that asked for eggs for a special, or if it was L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. offering cheap eggs in return for the retail special that would drive up demand.

That would pave the way for Gray to apply for supplementary import permits from the United States which would be a source or the cheapest eggs Gray could find.

Even at deeply discounted prices, Gray and Loblaws could still make a profit. And the Canadian egg producers would get none of it.

But the Canadian producers would have to foot the bill when retail demand - at regular markups - collapsed in January and the surplus has to be sold to processors at bargain prices.

And guess who owns the processors?  Not egg farmers or consumers.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

False arguments about GMO alfalfa

Sheila Hulquist wrote a letter to the editor of the Waterloo Region Record today arguing against allowing the introduction of Roundup-Ready alfalfa, but she used specious arguments to make her case.

She says organic farmers are concerned that the genetically-modified alfalfa would cross-pollinate with their fields of organic alfalfa. Perhaps so, but I don’t know a single farmer in all of Ontario who harvests alfalfa seed to plant another field. They all buy seed, almost all of it grown in the Peace River area of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

They need never buy Roundup-Ready alfalfa seed. Nor is cross-pollination a concern for seed they buy; they simply have to specify what they want.

Hulquist wrote “genetically modified alfalfa threatens to end all organic agriculture.”

I see no reason why that should be so, especially because organic farmers could - and almost all do - harvest alfalfa long before it reaches the seed stage.

And, finally, what is it about genetic modification that concerns the organic movement? I think it’s because all of the genetically-modified crops introduced so far involve patents held by large corporations, such as Monsanto, Dow and Bayer. They don't like big-company power.

And if that’s the real reason, the organic movement would do well to argue for reduced regulatory burden so genetic modifications could be completed by small-scale and local plant breeders.

That’s what took place before patenting and excessively expensive data requirements were imposed for genetically-modified varieties.

A great deal of plant breeding used to be done by University of Guelph professors and their students, and that brought huge benefits for Canadian farmers and consumers. No thanks to the organic movement and other fear-mongers opposed to all genetic modification, that’s gone.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Eggs open AGM; chickens closed

Egg Farmers of Ontario has decided to end closed-door sessions during its annual general meeting in Toronto March 26 and 27 at the Marriott Airport Hotel in Mississauga.

But a check with Chicken Farmers of Ontario indicates their leaders intend to once again bar reporters from the annual general meeting March 12 at the Delta Hotel in Mississauga.

The chicken board says it will send out a news release about the meeting about a week after the meeting, and also post it on the board's website. That, of course, means they will censor anything that's said during the meeting that the brass don't want the public to know.

Scott Graham, chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada, told a recent meeting of producers at Shakespeare that the government is demanding that the board be more transparent, especially over issues such as pricing and quota allocations.

Maybe that's a reflection of pressure on the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to conduct an inquiry into the policies and operations of the egg board. 

The commission would be well advised to conduct a similar and public inquiry into why the chicken board has made a deal with Quebec to defy the premiers' agreement to dismantle inter-provincial trade barriers and the failure to supply chicken to CAMI International Poultry Inc. at Welland.

It seems to me that the commission should also consider putting some fresh staff member in charge of relations with the poultry marketing boards. The person who has been in charge seems to be a rather ineffective watchdog on behalf of the Ontario public.

Helming warns of farmland bubble

Bill Helming, an agricultural economist based in Kansas, says the Iowa and Ontario farmland prices are in a bubble.

He figures it will burst within the next five years and prices will come down by 25 to 40 per cent.

There will be a lot of pain if and when that happens, much as there was when a similar bubble burst in 1980. That time it was a combination of rising land prices, aggressive expansions and soaring interest rates.

This time Helming says interest rates will not only stay down, but even the rates on 20 and 30-year U.S. government bonds will be coming down.

A Farm Credit Canada accounts agent commented that a 25 per cent reduction would only bring Ontario farmland prices back to the level two years ago.

But that will be small comfort to those who have taken out big mortgages to buy or refinance farmland at current market prices.

Helming forecasts a period of deflation because of rising unemployment, lower wages and debt reductions by households, businesses and governments.

Helming says the deflation will be widespread, encompassing North America, Europe, Japan and China.

He made the comments during a special invitation to speak to the annual meeting of the Waterloo Cattlemen's Association.

I hope the politicians in Ottawa are watching and bail out of ownership of Farm Credit Canada as fast as possible. As a taxpayer, I don't want to be on the hook guaranteeing the FCC loans portfolio.

Chobani pulling out of Canada

Chobani, the giant in the fast-expanding Greek yogourt market, is pulling out of Canada at least  temporarily. reports that the company answered a Twitter query confirming that it will be pulling out. It’s plans after that remain uncertain.

The report comes days after Graham Lloyd, lawyer, and Peter Gould, general manager, of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario led farmers to believe Chobani would be going ahead with plans to build a huge plant at Kingston, Ont.

They also led farmers to believe that the federal government will renew special import permits for Chobani to market Greek yogourt in Canada processed at its plant in upper New York State.

It appears they were wrong and the permits will not be renewed when the existing ones expire at the end of the month.

Quebec dairy farmers have lobbied strongly against the special import permits and Chobani’s plans for Kingston, apparently because they want any growth in the Canadian dairy market for themselves.

The Quebec dairy lobby has long been considered one of the strongest in Canadian politics.

Tell me again how brilliant Canadian politicians have been to grant dairy and poultry farmers a monopoly on their markets.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NFU whines

Ann Slater, president of the Ontario branch of the National Farmers Union, has a letter to the editor of Ontario Farmer whining about the failure to gain accreditation as a general farm organization.

She claims it's because the National Farmers Union is fearless in "speaking to power" such as big governments and companies.

But she has not seen the written decision of the Ontario Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal because it has not yet been released. It's probably not even in final draft form yet.

I sat through hours of public hearings the tribunal held on applications by the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Branch of the National Farmers Union.

That included a hearing last summer during which former directors of the NFU-Ontario testified that the Ontario branch is little more than a puppet of the National Farmers Union with its head office in Saskatoon.

And the relationships between the Ontario and national NFU were clearly the focus of the tribunal's subsequent hearings.

Slater and the Ontario Council (board of directors) for the NFU tried valiantly to persuade the tribunal that there is a lot more distance between the two organizations today.

But it would seem that it's still not enough.

The tribunal has never, ever, questioned the NFU's policy stands. Slater's claim to "speak against power" is a red herring in terms of accreditation, and I think she knows it.

But, as she outlined in her letter to the editor, staunch supporters of the NFU can still register, sending their $195 plus HST to either the OFA or the CFFO, applying to them for a refund and directing the refund to the NFU.

A hassle, no doubt, but effective.

So, Ann, would you like some cheese with that whine?
And they can "stand against power" as much as they like.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Drought lingers

The National Drought Mitigation Center says the drought is likely to continue this year across the mid-Western United States.

That would have a devastating impact on hog and beef farmers in both Canada and the U.S. and, in the longer term would price both beef and pork out of the reach of a significant percentage of households.

The main concern right now is winter wheat that has no snow cover, so is highly vulnerable.
It also seems likely that corn will be planted into dry fields.

That has beef and hog farmers deeply concerned about feed costs. If they can't afford feed, they will sell their herds, increasing meat supplies in the short term, but leaving them short in the longer term.

While the cattle industry isn’t currently seeing a direct impact from the snow drought, Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State University believes the recent past could provide some guidance in terms of what might need to happen this summer.

“We had some of the same conditions in 2010 and (the cattle industry) didn’t see what could happen then, but they sure see it now,” Peel told Meatingplace magazine.

“If we get to March and it’s still dry, things will quickly go into severe conditions, unlike with summer droughts, where things have time to ramp up in terms of response.”

Bill Helming speaking in Linwood
Bill Helming, respected veteran economist who follows long-term trends in the beef industry, told an Ontario audience of cattle producer this week that another drought-reduced crop would be devastating for a lot of beef and hog producers.

Peel, the Livestock Marketing Specialist at OSU, notes that the southern plain is “really hurting for water now because of the snow drought,” while Oklahoma will have “nothing left” if similar dry conditions continue into mid-March.

Peel says the cattle industry will be forced to go into immediate liquidation mode, adding that “the clock is ticking and we may see liquidations taking place as soon as April or May.”

Much CFAI ballyhoo about very little

Canada and the United States have agreed they will accept each other’s zoning systems to prevent the spread of any outbreak of a foreign animal disease.

For Canada, it would break the country in halves at West Hawk in Northwestern Ontario.
It’s not clear where the U.S. intends to establish zones, how many there will be and where the borders will be established.

In fact, in announcing the agreement, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says on its website that “a detailed guidance framework, outlining exactly how the arrangement will work, is (still) under development.

“The framework will lay out agreed-upon processes and conditions for zoning recognition, and will involve extensive consultation with industry groups, states and provinces.”

In other words, there's really only an agreement to keep negotiating.

The CFIA says that under the agreement, each country intends to some day recognize the zoning controls in the other nation.

It means that if there is, for example, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Ontario, cattle, beef, hog and pork exports could continue to the U.S. from Western Canada – provided Canada is certain that it can contain the outbreak to Eastern Canada.

The only time zoning has worked for Canada was during avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia. 

The CFIA was able to convince export-destination countries that the outbreak was contained within the Lower Fraser Valley.

Canada’s livestock industry has been working on West Hawk zoning strategy for about a decade but has yet to convince any export-destination country to accept Canadian zoning.

It seems the farmers might be able to negotiate an agreement a whole lot faster than the CFIA.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stark named OMAFRA deputy

Dr. Deb Stark has been named deputy of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

She begins Jan. 28, taking over from Karen Chan who has only been in the post since September.

Stark has been chief veterinarian and has moved up through the OMAFRA ranks after serving at the Ontario Ministry of Environment.

She is a graduate of Ontario Veterinary College and of Wilfrid Laurier University where she earned a Master of Business Administration degree.

In November, she was named Amethyst Fellow, School of Policy Studies, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ont.

M-COOL cost Canadians $1.9 billion

Alberta economist Ron Gietz says mandatory country of origin (M-COOL) rules in the United States have cost Canadians more than $1.9 billion.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that M-COOL is illegal and has ordered the U.S. to scrap it or face trade penalties that could be imposed by Canada and Mexico.

The Canadian Pork Council commissioned Gietz, who works as a livestock economist for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, to conduct the study.

Gietz says there was a $1.5-billion impact on the price of Canadian market-ready hogs and another $140 million on isowean and feeder pigs.

The Canadian Pork Council is giving the report to the federal government to help it negotiate terms with the United States. 

The World Trade Organization has given the U.S. until May 23 to comply, but so far federal politicians in Washington have done nothing.