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.