Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Small-scale processors appeal to Premier Wynne

The Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association is appealing to Ontario Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne to immediately implement the specialty-markets policy developed by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

That would short-circuit an appeal that has been filed by the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors, representing the large-volume processors, to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Appeal Tribunal.

The AOCP says the Ontario policy should not be implemented unless and until the Chicken Farmers of Canada, the national agency over provincial boards, makes a decision on proposals for a specialty-markets policy.

Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have been pushing hard for the policy, but Quebec is opposed, apparently because it thinks it might lose market share.

Ontario definitely thinks it would gain because there has been long-standing evidence that Ontario consumers want more chicken, especially for niche markets such as the Jewish community seeking kosher chicken and the Asian community seeking Hong-Kong dressed (feet and head on) chicken.

John Slot, staff member for the Ontario Independent Poultry Processors association, says in the appeal to Wynne that the appeals tribunal process simply delays implementation of the policy.

“It is an insult to the consumers of Ontario (and) it is not for supply management to dictate to what, where and when the consumers can have for their chicken, especially when the chicken that they are looking for are for ethnic and cultural protocol,” writes Slot.

He says the national agency has no business interfering with how the Ontario marketing board decides to assign the chickens the province is allowed to produce. It is up to the provincial board, not the national agency, to decide whether it wants to implement a specialty-markets policy.

The AOCP has objected that the specialty market policy will “cannibalize” existing markets – i.e. reduce demand for the chicken the big processing companies market.

The OIPP counters that “by providing the consumers with more choices, there will be an increase of chicken consumption in Ontario.

“More choices will create some cannibalization in the market place in the future, as this is market reality, but to make the statement that no cannibalization is allowed is stating that this policy is dead in the water.”

“The OIPP is asking that the Ontario agriculture minister steps up to the plate and gives a clear direction to the CFO to implement this policy without any further delay, as these appeals are time consuming and costly.

“This is not about supply management, this is about the Ontario consumers should have access to the chicken when, where and how they want it. 
“It clearly begs the question, who is the disruptive force in the Ontario Chicken industry.”

During a hearing before the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, the AOCP accused Slot and the OIPP of being a disruptive force. They succeeded in keeping Slot and the OIPP off of a chicken-board advisory committee.

“It is time for the agriculture minister to quit the talking and start the walking and give the consumers in Ontario the chicken that they want, especially when it relates to cultural and ethnic background.” says Slot.

Mad-cow fears grip Britons

There is renewed fear among Britons that mad cow’s disease might spread to infect people with incurable Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease.

This time the fear is spread via blood transfusions.

Government officials now say that up to 1000 people could die because the infective prions are in some of the blood people got as transfusions while in hospital.

there is still a risk of people contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) through blood transfusions they received while in hospitals.

The government estimates that 30,000 Britons are likely to be carrying the brain-wasting illness in a dormant form - double the previous estimate.

They warn that the current total death toll of 176 from vCJD could rise more than fivefold as the infection has not been wiped out of the blood supply.

It has been eliminated from the food chain via an aggressive and expensive cull of potentially-infected cattle and by scrapping all brain and spinal-chord tissue at slaughter plants.

Frank Dobson, a former Health Secretary, urged ministers to develop a nationwide screening program for blood donors to stop future infections of vCJD, which had the potential to cause "horrendous deaths".

Fears that hundreds of thousands of people could contract the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) proved unfounded. The disease was detected in cattle in 1989.

However, the Government acknowledges that one in 2000 Britons - or approximately 30,000 people - are already "silent" carriers of infectious proteins that lead some people to develop vCJD.

As a precaution, Canadian Blood Services stopped taking blood from Britons and Canadians who visited the United Kingdom.

Stereotypes take a hit

So much for the myth that farmers and rural businessmen are the bedrock of honesty and that slum dwellers are cheats.

It turns out that crop insurance fraud rates are far higher than food-stamp program cheating in the United States.

Democratic congressman Colin Peterson from Minnesota says “there is five times as much fraud” in the federal crop insurance program as there is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
“There is less fraud in food stamps than in any government program,” Peterson told the National Journal on April 10.
“There is five times as much fraud in crop insurance than in food stamps.”
US. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also commented recently.
“There’s also an issue we’re taking very seriously on crop insurance – because the percentage of error and fraud rate is higher in crop insurance than it is in SNAP,” Vilsack said.

“Obviously those programs are different in terms of size – but even if you reduce the error rate in crop insurance, you’re talking about tens of millions, and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in savings as well.”

In the United States, crop insurance is delivered via private insurance companies which are heavily subsidized by the federal government.

In Canada, crop insurance is either delivered directly by provincial governments or by agencies, such as Agricorp in Ontario, that have been set up by the province.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Supermarkets join sow crate ban, effective 2022

Loblaws, Metro, Sobey’s, Walmart, Costco, Safeway, Federated Co-operatives and Co-op Atlantic have all succumbed to pressure from animal-welfare activists to announce that they intend to buy pork only from farms that no longer use gestation crates after 2022.

The announcement came in a joint news release from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Retail Council of Canada, which represents supermarket chains.

The tactic of pressuring retailers began with the Humane Society of the United States and recently migrated to Canada where Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s and Burger King have made similar announcements.

More significant are the announcements by Canada’s two largest hog packers, Olymel and Maple Leaf Foods Inc., that they have plans to eventually buy hogs only from farmers that do not house sows in gestation crates.

The Canadian Pork Council has questioned the wisdom of the bans, noting that there are animal welfare issues involved with all types of sow housing systems and saying hog farmers ought to be able to choose the housing system that works best for them and their herd.

Eating snot may be good for immune system

Despite your mother’s lectures, picking your nose and eating what you find may have some health benefits, according to a biochemistry professor Scott Napper of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

"By consuming those pathogens caught within the mucus, could that be a way to teach your immune system about what it's surrounded with?" Napper asks his classes?

CBC says Napper tells his students that snot has a sugary taste and that may be a signal to the body to consume it and derive information for the immune system.

Yes, but has it been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency?

And has it got a bilingual label and a best before date?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Eric McLeod will be missed

I am saddened to learn of  the death of Eric McLeod, a veteran fieldman for the Dairy Farmers of Ontario marketing board. He was 58 when a heart attack took him this week.

I found McLeod a valuable, sensible source of information about milk marketing board policies and activities when his territory embraced the Waterloo Region and I was reporting for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

He was respected by dairy farmers because he was polite, informative, never gossiped and was eager to help. As one dairy farmer in Perth County, where he served for the last couple of decades, said, he could tell you about shortcomings he identified during his inspections, but in a way that was helpful.

He was an excellent listener. He will be missed.

Study blames glyphosate for illnesses

A critic of glyphosate has published a new research report in the scientific journal Entropy indicating that it combines with chemicals and toxins in the environment to trigger a number of illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, cancer and infertility.
Glyphosate residues have been found in food, says Anthony Samsel, and that's where they might enhance the damaging effects of other foodborne chemical residues and toxins to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease, according to the report.
The peer-reviewed report was authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Samsel who is a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc. and a former private environmental government contractor and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body," the study says.
We "have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated," Seneff said.

Jerry Steiner, Monsanto's executive vice-president of sustainability, reiterated that in a recent interview when questioned about the study.
"We are very confident in the long track record that glyphosate has. It has been very, very extensively studied," he said.

U.S. finds flaws at Apotex

In a script familiar to Canada’s meat-packing industry, it’s United States inspectors who have identified flaws at Canadian drug maker Apotex.

In the 1970s, it was United States Department of Agriculture inspectors who reported on hundreds of deficiencies at Canadian meat-packing plants, deficiencies either not noticed or neglected by Canadian inspectors and company executives.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found deficiencies in generic drugs manufactured at Apotex plants in the Toronto area. It also identified mould.

Health Canada officials last inspected the plants in 2011.

As happened with meat, production continues at the Canadian plants which sell to the Canadian public, but they were barred from selling in the United States.

The situation for meat continues. Last year it was U.S. inspectors who first identified E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria contaminating beef from the X.L Foods Inc. plant at Brooks, Alta.

That led to the largest recall in Canadian meat-packing-industry history, the temporary closure of the plant and eventual sale to JBS USA.

The United States is a wonderful third-party auditor. But our Canadian inspectors don't seem to appreciate their help.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

AOCP reasons for appeal revealed

The reason why the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors has filed an appeal with the tribunal against implementation of a new specialty-market policy is spelled out in a letter the AOCP sent to the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

The AOCP says it originally supported the new policy, but that support is conditional on obtaining additional production rights from the national agency.

The AOCP says that going ahead with the new policy without gaining a policy change and additional allocations from the national agency will mean that they will be short of enough chicken.

It also notes that the national agency rejected British Columbia’s application for a specialty-markets allocation when the agency’s board of directors met in January.

The next national agency board meeting is in early May.

The AOCP says in its letter to the board that the new policy must “not cannibalize existing markets.”

However, when the AOCP and the chicken board signed on to a no-trade policy with Quebec, that’s exactly what they did – cannibalize the market developed by CAMI International Poultry Inc. by refusing to provide Ontario-grown chicken to replace what CAMI had to shop in Quebec to meet its market demand.

Now Sargent Farms has also cannibalized the kosher market by purchasing Chai Kosher Poultry, leaving the Jewish-community market short of chicken.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Appeal Tribunal has yet to post information on its website acknowledging that the AOCP has filed an appeal.

Now the egg board will consult members

Hours after my most recent post about egg board general manager Harry Pelissero pushing for a quota exchange, chairman Scott Graham sent out an e-mail saying that now the board is willing to consult members about the proposal.

If my blog prompted that response, it was certainly fast. I honestly hope it was simply Graham realizing that this is a policy that needs consultation before it's rushed into place.

There Dairy Farmers of Ontario marketing board was the first to implement a quota exchange.

And then, when there were too many complaints about high and rising quota prices, the board had the perfect tool in its control to cap prices. And now hardly any milk quota trades in Ontario, absolutely stifling improvements in efficiency and family plans to expand to bring children into the business.

Not only did the milk board set a price cap on quota trading over the exchange, it also banned whole-farm purchases to achieve mergers.

If the egg board implements an exchange, I predict the next step will be price controls.

Don't go there!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who needs an exchange for egg quota

In yet another power grab, Harry Pelissero, general manager of the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board, is trying to bully his board of directors into establishing a board-run exchange for quota.

Just why an industry that has shrunk to so few members needs a board-run exchange to connect buyers and sellers is a mystery to me.

The way I understand it, farmers who want to buy and sell quota need do no more than tell a feed salesman and the word will spread like wildfire.

Why not have a few meetings for members to discuss the pros and cons of running an exchange?

Why not allow directors who have differing views - i.e. different from Pelissero's - granted freedom to express their opinions during these types of open meetings for members?

What's the rush, Harry?

Haven't you got enough on your plate already, trying to explain how your blunder over fining Svante Lind a few thousand dollars for alleged cheating on grades, has blossomed into a legal battle that is costing board members thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees?

And do they know that the board could have settled the lawsuits against it simply by having Pelissero take early retirement?

Of course, there would still be another Pelissero sitting around the board table.

And how come Pelissero assumed Lind was cheating on grading, but he hasn't lifted a finger to determine whether the allegations that the province's biggest egg graders routinely cheat by setting their automatic grading machines to allow a percentage of cracks in Grade A cartons?

I understand the graders say the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has an "administrative tolerance" for cracks. If so, I can't find it. I do believe the CFIA may have an administrative tolerance for cracks at the retail level, but I don't think there's any tolerance at the grading station level.

Maybe Pelissero should check that out and let his members know.

Hogs emit less greenhouse gas, use less water

The National Pork Board says modern pig production has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 35 per cent compared with 1959, uses 41 per cent less water and requires 78 per cent less land to produce pork.

"As a pork producer, I'm proud of the accomplishments we've made as an industry," said Conley Nelson, National Pork Board president.
"But today's competitive market demands that we do even more to improve how we produce pork.
“That's why pork producers are working together to fund new environmental research that will help us build on the progress we've made over the past 50 years," he said in a news release on Earth Day.
 Dr. Garth Boyd, who was the leader of the study, said improving feed efficiency by 33 per cent was the main contributor.

AOCP appeals specialty chicken policy

The Association of Ontario Chicken Processors has filed an appeal against the new specialty chicken policy the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board wants to implement.

The appeal means the policy is shelved until the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Appeal Tribunal hears the case.

Chicken Farmers of Ontario has waived the condition that an appeal ought to be filed first with it and only then should the AOCP be in a position to go to the tribunal.

The AOCP represents processors who handle almost all of the chicken Ontario farmers produce.

The Independent Poultry Processors Association represents a number of small-volume processors who are likely to be the biggest users of the new specialty-markets policy. 

Two years ago, led by objections from the AOCP, they were denied a seat on an advisory committee to the Chicken Farmers of Ontario.

The independents will likely seek status at the tribunal hearing because its members have a keen interest in specialty markets.

There are currently two specialty markets that are begging for chicken – the Asian community which wants Hong Kong style birds and the Jewish community which wants kosher-standard chicken.

The Jewish community lost its supplier when Chai Poultry was purchased by Sargent Farms.

The Asian community was supplied by CAMI International Poultry Inc., but the chicken board refuses to provide that company with the chickens it needs to fill that demand.

The appeal comes just before the national agency meets May 7 to establish allocations to each province.

Ontario would have been seeking extra allocation to meet the demand for its new specialty-markets policy.

What I find disgusting is that supply management, set up to benefit farmers, is being abused by processors who systematically try to short the market so they have no difficulty selling their production.

The processors insist that production ought to be reduced whenever their inventories rise. This approach to supply management means that the market is driven by the least desirable products in the least desirable locations at the least desirable times; that's what inventory backups represent.

Meanwhile the public that wants the most desirable products at the most desirable locations at the most desirable times too often can't get what they want.

Supply management for Ontario chicken is in far too many ways simply not working for anybody but the dominant processing companies.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Human rights tribunal investigates death

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has decided to hold its own inquiry into the death of a migrant worker on an Ontario tobacco farm more than 10 years ago.

The office of the province’s chief coronor has already rejected calls for an inquiry.

This new hearing is expected to take five days in Toronto, looking into the death of Ned Livingston Peart on a tobacco farm near Brantford. He was crushed by machinery.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has been pressing for decades for the right to represent farm workers, lobbied the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to take on this case.

The tribunals have been heavily criticized, especially by Maclean’s magazine, for sticking their noses into affairs that are already governed by legislation and other enforcement bodies.

They have typically been used by those with an axe to grind who have been unable to persuade regulatory channels to do what they want.

What the union clearly wants is the right to organize migrant farm workers. It has not been successful using normal channels, so it's using ancient history to try to dredge up public outrage about conditions for migrant workers.

It's time to simply scrap these tribunals because they're expensive nuisance.

As for migrant workers, I do believe some reforms are necessary. The way the system works, it's far too convenient for employers to hire them rather than recruiting people already in Canada.

A couple of years ago, I befriended a group of refugees from Myanmar who were farmers. They would have loved to work on local farms, but needed contacts and transportation.

When I asked farmers why they don't hire these farmers, they said it's so much more convenient to have migrant workers living on the farm and able to start work at 7 a.m. And work until dusk.

And, I might observe, not able to leave for a better job. Their situation is very much like that of slaves.

Canada can and should do better. And our salt-of-the-earth, moral-fibre-of-the-nation farmers (or at least they like to think they are) ought to be leading the way.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tribunal finally releases reasons for NFU-O rejection.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Appeals Tribunal has finally posted its reasons for denying accreditation to the National Farmers Union – Ontario under the Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act.

The decision was released before Christmas and came after a public hearing in July.

The Ontario organization has had to rely on direct memberships this year because it can’t collect any of the money ($195 plus HST) that Agricore requires from farmers to register their farms every year. They need a registration to access many government subsidies and programs, including reduced municipal taxes on farmland.

The first reason the tribunal gives for rejecting the application is that it does not have members in the province. The farmers are members of the National Farmers Union, not the National Farmers Union – Ontario which filed the application, the tribunal reasons.

And the tribunal says the national organization does not qualify to participate in “stable funding” under the terms of the legislation.

And it rejects the opinion the agriculture ministry offered via its lawyer during the hearing, saying it must follow the wording of the act. If the politicians who passed the act had wanted it to mean what the ministry’s lawyer said it means, they could of, and should have, worded it that way, the tribunal decided.

In the words of the decision, “at the hearing on July 18, 2012, it appeared to the tribunal that a related organization, the National Farmers Union (the "NFU"), might be the organization representing farmers in the province rather than the NFU-O. The NFU is a national farm organization based in Saskatoon and operates in Ontario as "NFU Region 3."

The tribunal also came to “adverse conclusions” when the NFU-O, after consulting with its lawyer, refused to produce documents outlining relationships between the Ontario and national organizations.

It finds that the Ontario organization is under the thumb of the national organization.

“Even if the directors of the NFU-O were to revolt against the NFU, the NFU would still be firmly in control,” writes the tribunal.

The tribunal says it respects Ann Slater, at the time the regional co-ordinator for NFU-O, when she testified that she perceives no conflict of interest between acting on behalf of the NFU-O and the NFU with head offices in Saskatoon.

But the tribunal points to documents and writes “to any disinterested observer, it would be obvious that the negotiation of such agreements (between the national and Ontario organizations) would place the regional coordinator in a conflict of interest, as the interests of the two corporations are almost certain to diverge at some point during the negotiation.”

The tribunal also points to a report from the NFU treasurer, citing an increase in the stable funding fee in Ontario, as a reason why revenues for the national organization increased, and says this undermines the argument made during the hearing that Ontario is financially independent.

The lengthy report continues in a similar vein to find evidence that the Ontario organization is really dancing to tunes composed in Saskatoon.

The tribunal says it appreciates that previous tribunals have granted the NFU-O accreditation, but says this tribunal is not bound by previous decisions and notes that the previous tribunals did not have all of the facts this tribunal garnered.

“For example, there is nothing in any of the tribunal's previous decisions to indicate that key documents such as the NFU's by-laws, the NFU's financial statements, and the legal agreements between the NFU and the NFU-O were in evidence before the tribunal on previous applications.

“In any event, based on the tribunal's review of the facts and the law in this case, the tribunal is unable to accredit the NFU-O on this application.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario were also rejected when they filed their original applications for re-accreditation.

After the tribunal outlined its reasons for those rejections, then agriculture minister Ted McMeekin eased the terms for re-accreditation, the two organizations made a number of changes and gained accreditations.

They will, however, face renewal challenges because McMeekin’s easing of the terms is temporary. Both organizations are changing the process they follow when signing up members.

MF Global trader guilty and fined

A grain trader with MF Global which collapsed in a spectacular bankruptcy in October, 2011, has been sentenced to five years in prison for making and illegal and unauthorized trade that resulted in a loss of $141 million in 2008.

Evan Brent Dooley, 45, pleaded guilty in a Chicago court.

MF Global Holdings lost $6.3 billion on a wrong-way trade on European bonds. It made the trades on its own behalf, not on instructions from any of its clients.

Many farmers used MF Global to hedge grain and they were hit by the bankruptcy, but most of them have come away with relatively generous settlements.

The company won final approval April 5 for its plan to repay creditors, paving the way for the eighth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history to wind down under court protection.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Another book critical of Canada's agri-food system

The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement,
By Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis,
Random House, 320 pages, $29.95 hardcover.

The Stop started as a food bank on Davenport Avenue west of the heart of downtown Toronto and in 1998, when Nick Saul arrived as a young and novice general manager, it was in a state of constant crisis.

He took the goal of food banks seriously – that they are intended to be only short-term relief on the way to long-term and sustainable solutions.

It hasn’t worked out that way, but not for lack of trying at The Stop where Saul was bold and disciplined about limiting handouts and seeking alternatives to address poverty, which is the root issue.

The book tells, step by step, how The Stop emerged as far more than a food bank and is now spreading its approach across Canada, starting at Perth and Stratford, Ont.

Growing food, preparing nutritious meals and pressing politicians for change are all part of the ambitious agenda.

I have no quarrel with the goals, but I do object to the constant criticism of North America’s agriculture and food industries. They do an outstanding job of delivering an abundance of wholesome food at reasonable prices, far better than the agriculture and food industries of many other nations.

I think Saul is unfair to blame farmers and food companies for the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Much more responsibility rests with consumers.

I think he is particularly unfair when he says society pays tremendous costs for our food industry, things that economists call “externalities” such as pollution.

He says nothing about the “externalities” of the model developed at The Stop.

It is a registered charity and sucks on society via tax breaks for donors. I doubt Canadians want a farming and food industry that depends on tax-break charitable donations.

However, I agree entirely with Saul’s main point that Canadians need to wake up to the dire straits endured by impoverished Canadians. It is a national tragedy and disgrace.