Friday, March 29, 2013

Auditor finds gaps in U.S. meat inspection

The Office of the Inspector General has identified a couple of gaps in United States meat inspection and says harmful bacteria that slipped through was responsible for at least some food poisonings.

The Inspector General says U.S. meat inspectors ought to check mechanically-tenderized meat for harmful bacteria. 

Had that been done in Edmonton, a number of consumers of beef from the XL Foods plant at Brooks, Alta., might have been spared illness last year.

So far the U.S.D.A. is only talking about labeling mechanically-tenderized beef, not testing samples for harmful bacteria.

The other issue raised by the Inspector General is boxed beef shipped to others who grind it for hamburger, cold cuts or other products.

That should also be tested, just as meat ground at the originating meat-packing plant is tested, says the audit.

The U.S.D.A. says it will be issuing instructions to its inspectors to test boxed beef.

The Inspector General notes that there were 35 illnesses and recalls for 1.3 million pounds of boxed beef in 2008 and 24 illnesses and a recall of 380,000 pounds of boxed meat from 10 states in 2009.

Too bad we don't have something like the Office of the Inspector General to blow the whistle on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chicken protein governs eating

Chickens who won’t stop eating lack a protein – cholecystokinin – that signals the bird that it’s had enough.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland made the discovery and have published their findings in the American Journal of Physiology, Edocrinology and Metabolism.

Their discovery is likely to help researchers develop better diets.

It might also help geneticists breed better birds because their discovery came from comparing three genetic strains – fast-growing birds, slow-growing birds and a cross of those two strains.

The lead researcher was Ian Dunn. His work was funded by the United Kingdom’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Egg farmers back depression drug research

The Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board is putting $1 million into a company that is running trials on a new drug, extracted from fertilized eggs, to treat depression.

United Paragon Associates (UPA) will use the money to fund trials to follow up on early results it says have been encouraging.
The drug, called Rellidep, is said to work faster and have fewer side effects than anti-depressants currently on the market.
"The active ingredients of Rellidep are derived from eggs and that also means the research can stimulate, increase and improve the production and marketing of eggs in Ontario," egg board chairman Scott Graham said by way of a news release.
He said in an interview earlier this year that the egg board hopes to gain production for a world-wide market for the new drug.
It is, however, derived from fertilized eggs and another marketing board, for hatching eggs, specializes in that market. The eggs marketed by Egg Farmers of Ontario are deliberately not fertilized.
The company said Tuesday it's "in the process of raising additional financing to continue the research and development of Rellidep."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DuPont, Monsanto bury their hatchets

DuPont and Monsanto have reached a mutual licensing deal and have dropped lawsuits against each other.
But they don't even hint at how much it will cost farmers for the funeral to bury their hatchets.
DuPont’s Pioneer seed company gains access to Monsanto’s new Roundup-resistant soybeans and other weed sprays as soon as next year.
Pioneer also would gain expanded access to soybean and corn traits previously licensed from Monsanto, enabling it to combine the traits with technology it uses from other companies or with its own.
As part of the deal, Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, will receive access to certain DuPont Pioneer disease resistance and corn defoliation patents.
“This is a smart deal for DuPont,” Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer, said in an interview.
“It removes this conflict that DuPont and Monsanto had out of the courtroom and enables us to focus squarely

Food banks pale by comparison

Fifteen per cent of the U.S. population takes food stamps, according to a recent statistical report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which funds the program.

An average of 46.6 million people per month got an average of $133 per person per month, a total of $78.3 billion in federal spending.
That makes Canada's food banks look like peanuts.
More people have sought help since the financial crisis hit in 2008.
Among the top five funded food programs, two are administered through U.S. schools - the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program.
They reach 31.6 million children at a cost of $11.6  billion.
The food programs take more than half of the U.S.D.A. budget of about $151 billion.

Alltech selling crop aids

 Alltech says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved four of its fertilizer products for sale in Canada.

In fact, beginning in April, the CFIA is scrapping many of its regulations governing the marketing of soil amendments and crop aids. 

It will no longer require proof that they work as advertised, so it will be "buyer beware". Customers will still be able to launch their own lawsuits if products fail to deliver on claims, but that will require expensive professional consulting and legal services.

Agro-Mos, Soil-Set, Crop-Set and Grain-Set are now registered as micronutrient fertilizers.
Alltech’s products are yeasts it makes in Kentucky where it has its head office for a global business making and marketing feed additives.
On its website, Alltech says Agro-Mos provides "essential nutrients that can aid with the defense against environmental stresses and (promote) metabolic processes" and says it be applied at the same time as fungicides and insecticides are sprayed on crops.
Soil-Set provides "essential plant nutrients, specific bacterial metabolites and natural enzymatic compounds" and promotes decomposition of crop residues and other organic matter to improve soil structure.
Grain-Set is a foliar application of micronutrients "complexed by amino acids and plant extracts that act as a powerful surfactant." The short-chain amino acids found in Grain-Set allow "immediate product absorption in plants," the company said.
Crop-Set "aids in stressful situations by providing nutrients essential to growth."
"While each product has a different source of micronutrients, all of the products are used to treat micronutrient deficiencies," the company said in its announcement.
"Successful agronomic practices are now a balancing act between meeting the consumer demand for fewer chemicals and trying weather conditions, all while attempting to increase yields with less land," Alltech Crop Science CEO Geoff Frank said in Tuesday's release. "It all starts in the fields and field health."
Alltech's Canadian head office is at Guelph. It has a livestock mineral processing plant at Alexandria, Ont.

Chicken board declines hearing

Glenn Black and his fast-growing group of small-flock chicken producers have been told that the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board won’t listen to proposals for policy changes.

That, says Black on his now-popular blog, clears the way to ask either the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission or the OMAF appeal tribunal to change the policies.

They and the Practical Farmers organization want the minimum flock that can be raised without quota increased from 300 to 2,000 birds.

Black is also asking the provincial government to allow small-flock owners to process their birds on the farm so they don’t have to either set up, or have their birds custom-slaughtered at, a licensed packing plant.

Black is conceding that would still be required for flocks of more than 300 birds.

Black has calculations posted on his website indicating that an increase from 300 to 2,000 birds for thousands of small-flock owners would fill only a tiny percentage of Ontario’s chicken market.

He has also shown how the number of followers of his blog has exploded after being available for less than two months.

He is encouraging small-flock owners to learn what’s involved, to join a petition and to help him prepare to go to either the commission or tribunal.

Black’s blog is on the internet at 

Friday, March 22, 2013

CIDA’s demise is worrisome

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is killing the Canadian International Development Agency by folding it into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

It’s a callous and greedy move.

When CIDA was formed, the goal was to share seven-tenths of one per cent of Canada’s wealth to help the poorest people in the poorest nations.

Canada never came close to reaching that goal.

But thousands of Canadians, through personal donations of money, time and talents have far surpassed that goal of seven-tenths of one per cent.

The government has been encouraging them with tax breaks and with support for many international relief and development projects.

Most of these are carried out by NGOs – non-government organizations – and Christians are prominent among them, charities such as the Mennonite Central Committee, the Roman Catholic’s Justice and Peace, Lutheran World Relief, World Renew, World Accord, World Vision, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

But now the Harper government talks about forming new partnerships with mining companies, finance companies, etc.

These are organizations whose main goal is garnering profits. It is totally different from the goal of the NGOs, which is to help needy people.

Harper is making a huge mistake. His approach will not work to help needy people. Whenever a choice arises between profit and aid, his new partners will trash their programs and budgets for compassion and help for needy people.

And so will Harper trash government budgets for the same goals. He is really only continuing the trend he began when he took office.

I am distressed by what’s happening. I used to be proud of Canada’s generosity, but this makes me ashamed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Supply management is a failure

After four decades of supply management for Canada’s poultry industry, it’s obvious that it has been a failure.
Instead of survival of family farms, we a sharply-reduced number of multi-million-dollar operations.
Instead of security for future generations of farmers, we have greater risks and uncertainties than ever, largely because the benefits of steady and high profits have been squandered on ever-increasing prices for quota.
Instead of the promise of a steady supply of wholesome food, we have a high-cost, provincially-balkanized system resistant to consumer preferences and marketing innovations.
The poorest Canadians cannot afford what Canadian poultry farmers produce; they could easily afford the same products at U.S. prices.
The system is run on inventories, not market preferences.
What I mean is that whenever poultry companies can’t sell what they offer, it backs up as inventories and that prompts the supply-management marketing boards to reduce production.
That clears the inventories – the least desirable products available ag the least desirable locations and times of the year.
Meanwhile, the demand for the most desirable products at the most desirable locations and times is not met.
Even the safety valve of imports to alleviate shortages is now under the influence of the poultry marketing boards. So, for example, CAMI International Poultry Inc. of Welland, Ont., is unable to fill the demand for Hong Kong dressed chicken in Toronto and the surrounding area.
Chicken that is produced at the highest cost in Canada, such as in Newfoundland, ends up in the cities where demand is the greatest, such as Toronto and Montreal.
I got a kick out of the article the Globe and Mail that credited Eugene Whelan with helping to bring perestroika to Russia.
If so, Whelan’s advice ran totally counter to his support for supply management.
That was a proven failure in Russia. It’s a failure today across Canada.
I could provide dozens more examples of how supply management has been abused, misused and failed, but you probably have more than enough examples of your own.

Doctors want ban on farm antibiotics

The Ontario Medical Association has issued a policy statement calling for a ban on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry farming.

The association says there is a crisis of antibiotic resistance and that’s why it’s calling for the ban.

Farm leaders are begging for more time to demonstrate that responsible use of antibiotics is the better choice.

That includes the Ontario Veterinary Medicine Association and spokesmen for commodity groups such as pork and milk marketing boards.

The veterinarians do agree with the medical doctors that the door on imports by farmers for their own use ought to be slammed shut.

That’s an issue that has drawn long-term criticism from the Canadian Animal Health Association which speaks for Canadian manufacturers, distributors and marketers of livestock and poultry medicines.

The medical doctors want regulations requiring a veterinary prescription for any use of antibiotics on farms.

There are other countries, most notably Europe, where bans on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics have gone into effect.

The experience there has been a short-term increase in disease and infection challenges on farms that required an increase in the therapeutic prescription use of antibiotics, followed by changes in management that bought animal and poultry health back to normal.

Dr. Doug Weir, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said Canada is lagging other countries, including the United States where authorities recently added cephalosporins as a class of antibiotics that can no longer be used by farmers as growth promotants.

That class remains on the market for Canadian farm use.

Weir said Canadians do not appear to understand that if antibiotic use isn't curbed, the world faces a future in which some infections will be incurable.

"This is a serious problem. We have to take serious action," Weir says.

My recommendation is that farmers be allowed the continued non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but only after they demonstrate that they provide the intended growth-performance-enhancing results. 

That would require an on-the-farm trial every so often, such as once a year for hog and chicken farmers, to show their use really works.  If there is widespread antibiotic resistance on the farm they won't work, so in those cases they are also a waste of money.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

French firm found with horsemeat and mutton

I'm wondering whether Alison Webster is working as the lawyer for Spanghero SAS of France.

Webster has a well-rehearsed response to the mountain of allegations against egg-grading giant L.H. Gray and Son Ltd.: she says the company "denies any wrongdoing."

Spanghero SAS of France says it’s not responsible for the horsemeat and now illegal mutton authorities have found at its meat-processing plant.

The company has been charged with knowingly mislabeling horsemeat as beef and now inspectors say they have found 57 tons of banned frozen mutton from England.

All of this is adding to public concerns about food safety.

Food safety officials have, however, been repeatedly telling the British, European and Irish public that the discoveries of horsemeat masquerading as beef in everything from lasagna to meatballs represents no risk to their health.

Spanghero’s operations have been suspended since the mislabelled  horsemeat was found in February.

L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. continues to operate full tilt, handling about 40 per cent of the eggs marketed in Ontario, plus more eggs at grading stations and egg-processing plants clear west to British Columbia.

As with Spanghero where meat has been found, with Gray electronic records have surfaced with e-mails and data that seem to imply illegal activities.

The records are under court protection of a lawyer in Kitchener awaiting a decision on how much of this information can be used in a court trial.

I guess the meat in France is also sitting under secure protection, awaiting a court trial.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Drug companies need scrutiny

Ben Goldacre is a young medical doctor in the United Kingdom who is campaigning to end the abuses practiced by big pharmaceutical companies so patients will get better-quality health care.

His book, Bad Pharma, is shocking.

I can't help but speculate that the abuses also apply to livestock and poultry medicines these same companies have developed, promote and market. Because human lives are not at stake, the abuses may, indeed, be even more egregious.

The book is a detailed, if somewhat repetitive, catalogue of the many ways that pharmaceutical companies have cheated to cut their costs, increase their sales and make more billions of dollars.

They cheat on the trials they conduct, they cheat by failing to report the results of trials when they don’t like the results, they cheat by paying ghost writers to prepare research papers favourable to their sales campaigns, then pay some researcher to put his name on the paper so it can be published by a respectable scientific journal.

They hide evidence of the terrible side effects of some of their drugs.

They spend billions on sales representatives who visit doctors, trying to persuade them to prescribe their pills. They offer petty bribes, such as pens and office gizmos; they pay bigger bribes such as free trips to conventions; they hire doctors to make favourable speeches at those conventions.

There is enough dissembling (misleading people without telling any lies) in this industry to garner billions in undeserved profits, all at considerable risk to the health and welfare of people.

Goldacre is angry, but he’s doing something about it.

This is a book that every medical doctor, including your doctors, ought to read. It is definitely a book that every health minister in Canada ought to read, re-read and thoroughly digest; it would save billions and many lives if they did something to correct the abuses.

Goldacre sets out recommendations about what needs to be done to end the abuses. None of the recommendations is difficult to implement, but every one is sure to draw opposition from the pharmaceutical companies.

I wish there were a similarly bold and investigative veterinarian to blow whistles on behalf of Canadian farmers.

New formula for allocating quota

Quota allocation formula proposed

Two University of Guelph researchers have developed a formula to allocate quota to provinces which have a competitive advantage.

That’s supposed to be the criteria for allocating additional quota as Canadian demand increases, but it has never been implemented by any of the dairy or poultry agencies.

It makes one wonder what teeth the Farm Products Council of Canada actually holds, or why it has refused to act. We, the Canadian public, can continue to pay inflated prices for dairy and poultry products because the council refuses to have increases in market demand produced in provinces which can do it at the lowest cost.

The farmers who run the national agencies have allocated increases on the same percentage basis as existing quota and have ignored what the legislation says about comparative advantage.

Saskatchewan challenged an egg agency allocation once and won an increase in its share of the over-base allocation, but there was no formula used to measure competitive advantage, only raw political clout.

Rajsic and Fox say the National Farm Products Council anticipates there will be more challenges coming.

In fact, after they wrote their paper, Alberta’s chicken farmers served notice that will lead to their withdrawal from national supply management at the end of this year because they want more quota.

If they pull out, they could produce as much chicken as they want and presumably that could become competition for producers in other provinces. Negotiations are ongoing to keep Alberta in the national system.

Ontario, which has also argued for years that it has been short of quota, is too timid to threaten to do the same at Saskatchewan and Alberta, so the nation's largest population continues to pay prices that are hard to justify.

There have been several proposals put forward by economists in the last eight years to deal with over-base quota allocations, but Predrag Rojsic and Glenn Fox of the Department of Food and Agricultural Resource Economics at the University of Guelph find fault with all but one of them.

Karl Meilke, a colleague at Guelph, advanced a formula in 2009 that would allocate over-base quota according to provincial quota prices.

He argued that quota prices reflect the profitability of production in various provinces, and the most profitable would be the most competitive.

Rojsic and Fox agree with that basic approach, but add a few wrinkles.
Their detailed research paper has been published in the journal of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Research Network and is posted online at .

I hope the political appointees at the Farm Products Council of Canada read it and gird up their loins to finally implement the legislation on over-base allocations.

And the same goes for the political appointees to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission who seem to think they can totally ignore the public and news media inquiries.

Another stab at banning antibiotics

Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York State, is taking a fourth stab at legislation to ban farmers from using antibiotics as growth promotants.
This time she has added Cephalosporins so the ban would apply to eight classes of antibiotics.
Her bill is supported by 450 organizations, including public health organizations, scientists, the World Health Organization, American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Richard Raymond argued the data used In Slaughter’s campaign was faulty. He used to be undersecretary at the agriculture department.
Canadians would be pressured to follow if the U.S. politicians approve Slaughter’s legislation because so much production here goes to U.S. markets and because the Canadian public and politicians would likely agree with the American move.

Japan to seek TPP seat

Japan will apply to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks talks, says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
But farm organizations are opposed.
Abe says the Japanese economy is stalled, so the country needs to get into the trade negotiations.
Canada joined late and at the same time opened direct trade negotiations with Japan.
Canada’s supply-managed dairy and poultry farmers, who also oppose any concessions in trade negotiations, will be pleased to have Japan and its farmers involved in the negotiations.
On the other hand, the others already in the trade negotiations may be reluctant to let Japan join because it will further complicate the negotiations, perhaps to the point of a stalemate as has happened with the world trade negotiations that began more than 10 years ago.
Canada’s direct negotiations with Europe are also faltering as several deadlines have passed and farmers who oppose concessions are also one of the key stumbling blocks.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Soybeans, forages to get faster oks

New soybeans and forage varieties will get faster approvals if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s proposals are accepted.
The proposals have been posted on its website and it is gathering public comments until May 23.
It says the changes will reduce registration costs and will encourage small businesses to engage in plant breeding and file for variety registrations.
But none of this applies to genetically-modified varieties. I think that's foolish because the risks, as far as I'm concerned, are far less with the manipulation of individual genes than with scattergun gene scrambling via chemicals or radiation, which was common practice long before GMO technology came along.
The CFIA proposes to drop several current processes, including review panels to recommend which varieties deserve to be registered. The applications would go direct to CFIA staff which would make the decisions.
Edible soybean varieties are already handled under this less onerous registration protocol, termed Schedule III, Part III.
The forages involved are alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, bromegrasses, canarygrass, alsike clover, red clover, sweet clover, white clover, forage-type fescues, lupin, orchardgrass

Caisse invests in Australian research

It's too bad we don't have these kinds of investment opportunities in Canada.
The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec is investing about $33 million in the Centre for Agribioscience at Melbourne, Australia.
The facility is a joint initiative of the government of Australia’s Victoria state and La Trobe University and includes research laboratories and greenhouses.
A staff more than 400 is studying and identifying diseases likely to attack living cultures and organisms which make up Victoria’s $12-billion agriculture sector.
“This investment in a social-infrastructure project enables us to increase our presence in Australia, a market presenting great business opportunities,” Caisse de depot senior vice president Macky Tall said in a statement.
“Because these projects are carried under under 15, 20 or even 30 year agreements, they enable us to generate stable, predictable returns,” he said.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oikocredit keeps on growing

OikoCredit of Amsfoort in the Netherlands made a profit of $30 million (CDN) last year, boosting its ability to keep on funding micro-credit projects to help poor people around the world.

It puts a priority on agriculture and Africa.

It provided $33 million in new loans to 38 agricultural partners.

A total of $46 million was disbursed in loans to the sector, including support to organic farming and agricultural processing.

Oikocredit said it plans to increase its support of the sector over the coming years.

Micro-credit projects usually operate in co-operation with development projects, helping local people to set up a co-operative which then provides small loans to members.

The members meet weekly to review progress, share ideas and encourage each other. Most are women.

Repayment rates have been exceptionally high and often the groups become strong enough to undertake local improvement projects, such as building schools and medical clinics.

There are a number of Canadian partners helping to fund OikoCredit’s micro-finance division, including World Renew, the international relief and development agency for the Christian Reformed Church, which has in the past invested some of its reserve funds.

BASF drops corn project

BASF Plant Sciences is dropping a project to develop nutritionally-enhanced feed corn, but is increasing its efforts to develop corn that can resist fungal diseases.

It is also dropping efforts to get European approval to market a genetically-modified potato variety, citing the difficulties in persuading the government to grant approvals and activists’ disruptions in vandalizing test plots.

The damage inflicted by activists prompted BASF to move its plant sciences group from Germany to the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

The company said it’s dropping work on genetically-modified nutritionally-enhanced feed corn because it has failed to find a seed-corn marketing partner and because the potential market is relatively small.

"(Fungal resistant corn has) got a very robust market potential, and that's where we want to shift our resources, and put them into that area," said Fran Castle Rowland, global brand communications senior manager for BASF Plant Science.