Friday, May 31, 2013

CFIA files reveal egg-grading failures

Reports of random-sample testing of eggs processed by Canada’s two largest egg-grading companies indicate they are putting cracked, dirty and wrong-sized eggs into their retail-ready cartons.

The reports confirm allegations by whistleblower Norman Bourdeau that L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. routinely packs cracked eggs into Grade A cartons where the law does not allow anything but Grade A eggs to be included.

They also undermine arguments that lawyer Alison Webster presented in Toronto court on Monday where she said it’s “inconceivable” that Gray has packed cracked or “undergrades” for sale as Grade A eggs.

She told Justice Carol Brown that Bourdeau’s allegations and analyses of electronic egg-grading records are wrong because Gray’s egg grading and food safety are audited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and by the Guelph Food Technology Centre and that Gray’s customers would not stand for the cheating alleged by Bourdeau.

She did not, however, reveal to the judge the extent to which she has gone to try to conceal the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s reports on random sampling of eggs at the company’s Strathroy plant.

On behalf of Gray, she has challenged a decision by the federal Information Commissioner to release Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports to me. 

It’s that court challenge that has led to a “leak” of reports that the CFIA sent to the court in Ottawa.

I have  obtained the CFIA reports relating to the Maple Lynn Foods Ltd. plant Burnbrae runs at Strathroy.

Last year I obtained some CFIA reports on Gray’s egg-grading station at Strathroy.

The Information Commissioner court case relates to an Access-to-Information request I filed in February, 2012, for "copies of the results of random sampling and checking of eggs to determine the accuracy of grading at facilities owned by L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. and/or GrayRidge Farms Ltd. in the province of Ontario, and of Burnbrae Farms Ltd., also in the province of Ontario, for the fourth quarters of (October, November and December) of 2009, 2010 and 2011."

Together the reports confirm allegations made in a lawsuit by Svante Lind and his Best Choice Eggs business against Burnbrae, Gray and the Ontario egg marketing board.

Because they are from CFIA's random sampling, they should be representative of all the eggs the two companies market in Ontario. They hold about 90 per cent market share in the province.

The reports are all for a time after Best Choice Eggs filed its lawsuits against the two companies and the egg board, alleging that there is cheating on egg grading. That ought, one would imagine, have alerted the companies to pull up their socks.

The allegations filed in the Lind court case begin with grading at Gray and then say the pattern is similar at Burnbrae. The egg board is involved because it has a huge stake in the reputation of eggs sold in the province and depends for its funding on a levy, or tax, on only Grade A eggs.

Webster has consistently denied that Gray has been involved in any wrongdoing.

I obtained 11 CFIA reports on Maple Lynn from the Ottawa court records, and every one of them identifies cracked eggs packed in Grade A cartons.

One skid that was sampled was so bad that the CFIA ordered it “detained,” which means it could not be marketed.
Typical of the 11 reports is one for Oct. 7, 2011, in which the random sample turned up three per cent cracks in Grade A cartons of “Prestige Club Pack” eggs.

Typical for Gray Ridge is a June 18, 2011, report in which 3.5 per cent of the eggs in Grade A cartons are cracks.

One of the worst results for Gray Ridge eggs is a July 28, 2011, report in which the random sample turned up 5.6 per cent cracks.

Bourdeau and Lind have both petitioned the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to launch an inquiry into the industry, both of them highlighting the alleged cheating on egg grading.

After two years of sitting on Bourdeau’s petition, the commission has finally decided it will undertake an “investigation” that will be done in private and will only look into the egg marketing board’s governance and administration, and will not examine egg grading.

Bourdeau has since withdrawn his petition. Lawsuits between Bourdeau and his former employer, L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., have also vanished from court proceedings in London, Ont., leading to speculation that Gray has bought off Bourdeau with an out-of-court settlement.

That has, in turn, brought comments from Lind’s lawyers that they may file an action against Webster and Gray for “witness tampering”.

If there has been an out-of-court settlement between Gray and Bourdeau, it was hidden from Justice Brown on Monday.

CFCs, not carbon dioxide, driving global warming

A University of Waterloo professor says it's CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons used in aerosol cans and refrigerators and coolers) that is driving global warming, not carbon dioxide.

Prof. Qing-Bin Lu further says that success in curbing CFC emissions has turned the tide and the global climate has been cooling for the past decade.

He says cooling could persist for the next 50 to 70 years.

He is a professor of physics and astronomy.

His findings and commentary are published in the Journal of Modern Physics B and became public this week.

In 2009 he published another paper pointing to CFCs as the main man-made cause of global warming.

His findings have huge implications for farmers because they are being blamed for contributing more carbon dioxide to the environment that vehicles, all because of the belches and farts of cattle.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

U.S. risk rating for BSE lowered

 The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has decided to classify the United States risk for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow’s disease) as “negligible”.
That’s the safest level the OIE offers, and it puts the U.S. on a better trade footing than Canada whose rating remains “controlled” risk.
A negligible rating is supposed to be reserved for countries that have never had a case of BSE, or it’s been 11 years since the most recent BSE case.
The U.S., however, reported a case in Alabama in April, 2012.
Canada’s most recent case was in 2004.
The decision to rank the United States’ risk as “negligible” instead of “controlled” came at the OIE’s annual meeting in Paris. Its scientific arm earlier recommended the upgrade after reviewing U.S. safeguards.
The new risk category was a “strong foundation” for increasing U.S. beef and beef product exports, said Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Vilsack said the United States would press its trading partners “to base their decisions on science, consistent with international standards.”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, a trade group, has said the safer designation would be “a big step toward enhancing our export opportunities.”
U.S. safeguards include a ban on using ruminant parts in cattle feed and keeping spinal cords, brains and nervous tissue, the items most at risk of infection, out of the food supply. USDA tests about 40,000 head a year for the disease.

Canada’s standards are more stringent than the U.S. for keeping spinal cords, brains and nerve tissues out of the food supply.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Copper destroys nasty novovirus

British scientists have found that copper kills novovirus, one of the nastiest bugs that generate massive outbreaks of food poisoning.

The virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person-to-person contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning surfaces made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.

Norovirus is responsible for more than 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis every year.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine and outbreaks regularly shut down hospital wards and care homes, requiring expensive deep-cleaning, incurring additional treatment costs and resulting in lost working days when staff are infected.

It’s a plague on the cruise ship industry where there have been a number of outbreaks.
It has also shown up in hotels where it sickens many of the guests.

Professor Bill Keevil, chair in Environmental Healthcare at the University of Southampton and lead researcher, presented his work at the American Society for Microbiology's 2013 general meeting last week.

The presentation showed norovirus was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60 per cent copper proving particularly effective.

The contamination model used was designed to simulate fingertip-touch contamination of surfaces.
Professor Keevil from the University's Institute for Life Sciences, said "copper alloy surfaces can be employed in high-risk areas such as cruise ships and care homes, where norovirus outbreaks are hard to control because infected people can't help but contaminate the environment with vomiting and diarrhea.

"The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions.

“That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection.”

He said copper surfaces such as door handles and taps can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks.

Chinese firm bids to buy Smithfield

A Chinese company is spending $4.7billion US cash to buy Smithfield Foods of Virginia, the largest hog-producing and pork-packing company in the Western world, in a deal described as a merger.

Shuanghui International Holdings Limited said the deal is worth $7.1 billion; besides buying the company's shares, it will assume Smithfield’s debts.

Shuanghui International is the majority shareholder of Henan Shuanghui investment & Development Co. , which is China's largest meat processing company.

Under the terms of the agreement, which has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies, Shuanghui will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Smithfield for $34 per share in cash. 

That's 31 per cent higher than the stockmarket price of Smithfield shares before the deal was revealed.

Smithfield will become a private company. Current leadership and management will remain in place. The headquarters will remain in Smithfield, Va. 

“It will be business as usual — only better — at Smithfield,” said chief executive officer Larry Pope.

“We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the United States and throughout the world,” Pope said in a news release.

Shuanghui chairman Wan Long said the deal offers Smithfield an opportunity to market its products throughout China, which is the world’s largest producer and market for pork.

Shuanghui is committed to continuing the long-term growth of Smithfield, and continuing to work with American farmers, producers and suppliers who have been critical to Smithfield's success, he said.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sunnymel plant opens

The $50-million Sunnymel plant is now open to process chickens in New Brunswick.

It was built as a result of a battle between Nadeau Poultry Inc., which once dominated the chicken-processing business in the province, and Groupe Westco which controls the majority of the province’s chicken production.

Westco pulled out of Nadeau, which is owned by Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. of Norval, Ont., and began shipping its birds to an Olymel plant in Quebec.

Sunnymel is a joint project of Westco and Olymel.

The new plant began processing chickens last fall, but now is officially open and able to process up to 12,000 birds per hour with a staff of about 200.

It also processes some birds from Nova Scotia.

Nadeau kept its plant supplied with birds from Nova Scotia after the main plant there burned down, then went into a joint ventiure to build a new plant in Nova Scotia.

More recently Nadeau has been pulling birds out of Quebec.

That is an irritant to Quebec which recently signed an agreement with Ontario to ban inter-provincial trade in live chickens, ending bidding competition that saw about 10 per cent of the production in each province going to processors in the other province.

Earlier this month, a group of French-language farmers in Eastern Ontario won a court battle against the Ontario chicken marketing board, giving them the right – despite the ban on inter-provincial trade – to market their birds to processing plants in Quebec.

The national supply management agency, Chicken Farmers of Canada, appears to be incapable of settling these destructive inter-provincial battles.

Gray tries to eliminate part of lawsuit

Lawyer Alison Webster spent a Monday in court in Toronto, trying to persuade Justice Carol Brown to dismiss two parts of the lawsuit that Svante Lind and his Best Choice Eggs business have filed against her client, L.H. Gray and Son Ltd.

She argued that there is no evidence that Gray was engaged in a conspiracy with Burnbrae Farms Ltd. (or Burnbrae Holdings Ltd. and Maple Lynn Foods) and the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board to drive Best Choice out of the egg-grading business.

She also argued that there is no evidence that Gray misrepresented Grade A eggs.

Lind’s lawsuit alleges that there was a conspiracy and that Gray and Hudson routinely included undergrades in retail-ready packages that should contain only Grade A eggs.

Two reporters were ordered to leave the courtroom for much of the presentations by Webster and by Robert Morrow and Donald Good, representing Lind and Best Choice Eggs.

That’s because Webster used information from an affidavit filed by Scott Brookshaw, general manager for Gray’s egg-grading and egg-farming operations, and that document remains under a court sealing order while Webster appeals a court decision earlier this year to lift the veil of secrecy.

Meanwhile Burnbrae is seeking federal court action to block the release of Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports on audits of its egg grading.

Those documents are sought by a reporter who is using the federal Access to Information process and an appeal to the Information Commissioner of Canada who has made a decision on releasing the documents, a decision that Burnbrae is now challenging in court.

No lawyers for Burnbrae appeared in court Monday, but the law firm sent a law student to monitor proceedings. Geoff Spurr, lawyer for the egg board, was there for part of the hearing.

Webster said in a brief interview at the end of Monday’s court appearance that part of her argument on egg grading relates to an “administrative tolerance” for undergrades in packages of Grade A eggs.

That is a contentious issue, especially if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does have an “administrative tolerance” and whether it applies at grading stations or only at retail outlets.

Webster has also fought to keep electronic records of Gray’s egg-grading data out of the court proceedings.

Good and Morrow want that data to be allowed as evidence.

Good only said after Monday’s hearing that he and Morrow argued that there are differing opinions about the accuracy of Gray’s egg grading.

In the open session, Webster outlined the long history of this legal battle, beginning with a lawsuit Lind filed against the egg marketing board in 2005, then against Burnbrae and Gray in 2008.

She said whistleblower Norman Bourdeau took a backup of Gray’s complete computer files and used it to brief Lind during several meetings, often in IKEA furniture-store outlets.

She says Bourdeau provided Lind with 300 pages of documents, then later with 800 pages, including many e-mails and egg-grading records which Bourdeau had analyzed by a third party.

Bourdeau, who has accused Gray of fraudulently marketing about five per cent cracked and otherwise undergrade eggs as Grade A eggs, has dropped out of sight after figuring prominently in the court actions for more than three years.

Webster accused Lind of misleading the court into believing he had only three e-mails from Bourdeau when, in fact, he had hundreds of pages of documents and extensive briefings.

Webster also says Bill Gray, owner of the business, did not order Bourdeau to destroy the electronic records, as Bourdeau has claimed, but only to “clean up” his e-mail files.

Webster said Gray is audited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and annually by the Guelph Food Technology Centre for food safety and said “it’s inconceivable” that Gray could remain in business if it routinely cheated on egg grading. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Women hold the keys to beating poverty

Estimates range to a high of 70 per cent in calculating how many of the world’s poor people are women, write Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson on their new website.

In many cases, these women are responsible for the farming that feeds the family.

Yet in many African countries, they are barred from holding title to land, and therefore the ability to borrow money to improve their farming.

Girls are also less likely to be granted opportunities to attend school, but are put to work sharing the load borne by their mothers.

A third of women are sexually abused.

In March, Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations” Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, released a report he wrote called “Gender and the Right to Food.”

He called for more work be done to eliminate discrimination against women at household and state levels alike.

From May 28th to May 30th the organization Women Deliver will host their annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where international leaders in the women’s movement will discuss solutions to address these challenges facing women across the world, say Nierenberg and Gustafson.

This is an opportunity for the world to take notice and to be reminded that there are only 1,000 days left to reach the Millenium Development Goals that call for a number of global improvements, such as halving the number of people without enough food, an end to extreme poverty and hunger, wiping out malaria and HIV/AIDS and empowering women and promoting gender equality.

“Overcoming hunger is a game changer for a girl living in a developing country,” writes Gustafson.

“Fifty-three percent of children who drop out of primary school are female – mainly because they need to work to help feed their families.

“Girls who stay in school are empowered to make positive decisions that affect their entire lives, such as waiting to have children and acquiring the skills they need to support to them,” she writes.

According to the Women Deliver organization, if the international community spent an additional $12 billion US per year, women around the world would be able to receive sufficient family planning and maternal and newborn care.

“By reducing deaths of mothers and infants, such an investment would lead to $15 billion US in gained productivity.

“In addition to investing in health, investment in economic opportunities for women, particularly in the agriculture sector in developing countries, is crucial.

Research from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that if women had the same access to resources that men have, global malnutrition could be reduced by at least 12 percent,” they write.

I'd like to remind those who dig in their heels to continue trade protection for supply management that reducing trade barriers would be multiple times more helpful to poor people than all of the international aid provided for relief and development.

The Canadian supply-management sector ought to be ashamed of the role it has played in stalling the World Trade negotiations which are specifically designed to address agriculture issues and the needs of poor people in poor nations.

M-COOL gets worse

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association says it’s ”dismayed” that the United States has not eliminated, but increased, trade discrimination through its mandatory county-of-origin labeling regulations.

“The new rule does nothing to reduce discrimination against Canadian feeder pigs and slaughter hogs,” stated Jean-Guy Vincent, Canadian Pork Council’s Chair.  “The new rule will strip away any flexibility to comingle Canadian and US live swine at processing plants.  This will make a very bad situation of the last four years much worse."

The U.S. made its decision today, the deadline to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that found the COOL regulations were discriminating against imported beef and pork from Canada and Mexico.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says Canada will ask the World Trade Organization for permission to implement trade-retaliatory measures, usually meaning tariffs on U.S. products that would result in the greatest political backlash in the U.S.

It makes one wonder why anybody wants to sign free-trade agreements with the U.S. when it simply bullies trading partners.

Canadian cattle and hog farmers have suffered hundreds of millions of dollars of market damage because the almighty U.S. simply does whatever it wants, regardless of the trade agreements it negotiates and signs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to crack down on transporters, judging by the fines it levied in the last three months of last year.

It collected $107,000 in fines in Atlantic Canada, $96,600 in Ontario, $92,400 in Quebec and $19,200 in Western Canada.

It identified 126 violations, but 82 got off with warnings.

The data is posted on the CFIA website.

It also shows that the CFIA collected $9,600 in fines in Quebec for violations of the animal identification act. There were none in Ontario and only one in Western Canada where the fine was $1,300.

There were four warnings under the Health of Animals Act in Ontario, four in Quebec plus one fine of $10,000 and one warning and four fines totaling $30,800 in Western Canada.

There was one fine under the feeds act - $10,000 in Quebec.

The CFIA postings no longer provide the names of the guilty.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quebec targets foreign investors

Colleague Ian Cumming (we both write for Ontario Farmer publications) has come across a juicy story in Quebec.

It seems the province's biggest farm organization doesn't like the bidding competition from Chinese investors buying farmland, so it has persuaded the PĂ©quiste government to propose draconian measures to curb their enthusiasm.

"Any foreign person or company now wanting to buy a Quebec farm or business must give $800,000 to the Quebec government, which will be returned without interest in five years time," writes Cumming.

"In a renewal of the rules for investing immigrants, posted on March 27, 2013 for comment by the Ministere de L’Immigration et des Communacature Culturelles, the posted rules detail how a government approved broker or trust company will take the $800,000 and the revenues it generates over the half decade, will help fund two government immigration programs.

"These are to help finance the running of the Quebec foreign investing program and a job integration assistance program.

“At the end of the five year term the broker or trust company will, within 30 days, reimburse the applicant $800,000 without interest,” says the government posting.

The government proposal also says foreign investors will need a minimum of $1.6 million “legally obtained,” have experience managing and financing the industry they are investing in, plus have a Quebec business that will employ at least two full-time staff.

So, if the Chinese can't buy in Quebec, guess where they will be shopping.

And while Quebec prices for prime farmland may cool as a result, they are likely to get hotter than a pistol in Ontario.

Chicken agency cries foul over spent fowl

The Chicken Farmers of Canada national agency says imports of spent fowl increased by 25 per cent last year and now take 10 per cent of the Canadian market for chicken meat.

The chicken-industry leaders are alarmed and pleading with Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to take action.

Glenn Black of Providence Bay, an outspoken critic of the Ontario and national chicken marketing boards, says the imports may be costing Ontario producers as much as $100 mlllion a year in lost sales.

Meanwhile Black continues to lobby on behalf of small flock owners in Ontario for the right to grow up to 2,000 per six-week quota period instead of being capped at 300 under current marketing board rules.

That, he says, would only marginally increase Ontario chicken production – certainly by less than the fowl imports.

The importers have also taken to blending chicken and fowl meat, keeping the chicken portion to 49 per cent or less so they can escape the tariffs designed to protect supply management.

It may be a coincidence that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been cracking down on the transport of spent fowl, targeting Maple Lodge Farms Ltd. at Norval, Ont., with scores of citations.
Ritz has told the national agency he’s going to look into their concerns.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Egg inquiry to be narrow

While the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is investigating the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board, it has decided the inquiry won’t delve into the basic issues raised by the two parties who requested the inquiry.

Svante Lind of Best Choice Eggs and Verified Eggs and Norman Bourdeau, former information-technology officer for L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., both put egg grading at the heart of their requests for an inquiry.

They allege that Gray and Burnbrae Farms Ltd., which buy about 90 per cent of the eggs marketing board members produce, cheated on grading to include eggs that are cracked and/or dirty and do not meet Grade A standards.

That, they charge, inflates the price the public pays for eggs and the revenues of the marketing board which is financed by levies on only Grade A eggs.

But the commission inquiry will not investigate the grading of eggs.

It has fluffed that off on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and food-safety officials in the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Food safety is an issue if cracked eggs, washed in manure-polluted water, are then sold to an unsuspecting public that includes some who eat raw eggs.

And the inquiry will not be conducted by the commissioners, who are appointed to oversee marketing boards, nor will it be public. It will be conducted by some yet-to-be-named person.

The inquiry will be narrowly focused on the administration and governance of the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

The fix is in, folks. This inquiry will be a waste of time and money because the commission, the egg board, Burnbrae Farms Ltd. and L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd. don’t want it to dig up and display any wrongdoing.