Friday, June 28, 2013

TGE outbreak on Ontario farm

An anonymous Ontario farm is winning high praise for promptly reporting an outbreak of TGE (transmissible gastroenteritis).

The symptoms are similar to Porcine Epidemic Virus, a new disease that has spread to about 200 hog farms in 13 states in the United States.

Canadians are on high-biosecurity alert for the new disease, so swine veterinarians and industry leaders in Ontario were pleased that the farm promptly reported the outbreak of TGE in nursing pigs.
The farm also alerted all service personnel who might come to the farm so they could take extra precautions.

The symptoms for both diseases are similar, such as vomiting, diarrhea and high mortality rates.
TGE was confirmed as the disease at the Ontario farm through testing at the Animal Health Laboratory on the campus of the University of Guelph.

TGE was once common in Ontario, but has been rare in recent years because immunity develops when pigs are sick with Porcine Respiratory Corona Virus which is much less severe and has been widespread in Ontario.

The recent handling of an outbreak of TGE is an excellent example of how to respond to unusual clinical signs in a swine herd,” says a joint news release from the Ontario Pork Industry Council, the Ontario Swine Health Advisory Board, the Ontario Pork marketing board, the Ontario Association Swine Veterinarians and the Canadian Swine Health Board.

“The owner’s actions ensured an accurate and timely diagnosis, proper treatment and protected other herds from disease spread,” they say.

“Such a prompt and conscientious response is particularly important if an Ontario herd breaks with PED,” they say.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Raw milk blamed for six illnesses

Don’t look, and you might think the raw milk you’re drinking is safe.

But officials in Minnesota did look and during “routine surveillance” linked six illnesses to the consumption of raw dairy products from the Dennis Jaloszyski dairy farm, near Cambridge, Minnesota.

Lab results identified the cause in three illnesses as Campylobacter jejuni.

Health department officials were frustrated when they went to the farm to pick up a customer list so they could alert the people to watch out for symptoms of food poisoning.

The farmer said he doesn’t have a list.

That left officials to issue a general alert.

"We're concerned that people may be continuing to get sick after consuming products from this farm," said Trisha Robinson, a foodborne illness epidemiologist with MDH.

"While we are very concerned about the illnesses associated with this farm, this also is about the inherent risk for foodborne illness from any raw milk consumption," Robinson said.

"Drinking raw milk or eating products made from raw milk can expose you to a variety of pathogens that can result in anything from a few days of diarrhea to kidney failure and death. 

"People need to think carefully about those risks before consuming raw dairy products from any source, and people need to know that the risks are especially high for young children," she said.

It's one thing for stupid adults to shop for raw milk, but quite another to serve it to sweet innocent infants and toddlers.

Hog trucks should be washed

Washing, disinfecting and drying trucks that haul hogs is high on the list of biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea from the 199 sites in 13 states in the United States to Canada.

And Manitoba Pork is cautioning that the washing should be with fresh water. It warns that some truck washes in the U.S. and Canada use recycled water which could be contaminated.

Miles Beaudin, quality assurance manager for Manitoba Pork, says it’s important that truckers use only those truck-wash centers that use fresh water.

Last year the Ontario Pork Industry Council undertook a project to train and audit truckers on proper truck-washing protocols.

As outlined in pictures and videos shown during the council’s annual meeting, the protocols are demanding and a lot of truckers came up short during audits.

Canada approves Mexican beef packers

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved eight Mexican beef plants to sell into the Canadian market.

The news comes from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development, not from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The plants are in seven states - Baja California, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Querétaro, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Veracruz.

The Mexicans say CFIA inspectors have been in the country for a few months to check out the plants.

I'm betting they were down there during the winter and were in no hurry to get their work done. 

So, while we can now eat beef from Mexico that has approval from the CFIA, what about all of the beef on provincial markets here in Canada that comes from plants that have never received CFIA approval?

Do we really care about food safety and quality, or is it all about trade barriers and cash?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

First GMO label approved in U.S.

The United States has granted approval for the first food label that claims there is no content of genetically-modified ingredients.

It opens the door to more similar labels and steps into a long-standing controversy between those who oppose GMOs and those who support them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is demanding third-party certification that the products that contain meat is from animals that have never eaten GMO crops and that liquid egg products are from hens that never ate rations that include GMO crops.

It’s likely to give a boost to organic farmers because they won’t grow GMO varieties and must meet federal standards and auditing to claim their crops are organic.

The labels will be granted only if the third-party organization and the company can show that the claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading, and provided there are resources to help consumers understand exactly what the claims and certification mean, said Cathy Cochran, a public affairs specialist with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

Connecticut and Maine have passed laws this spring to require labels for food that contain GMO materials, but neither law can take effect until there is a bordering state that also passes similar legislation.

Frankly, it would make just as much sense to me to label foods for whether they harvested on a sunny or a rainy day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Elmira Poultry sold again

Elmira Poultry has been sold again, this time to Hallmark Poultry Processors Ltd. of Vancouver.

J.D. Sweid Ltd., also of British Columbia, bought the business in 2006 and built an addition in 2009.

The company was started by Monty Ward is Elmira in 1985, moved to Waterloo and became one of the fastest-growing and well-equipped further processing plants in Canada.

At one point its laser water-jet cutting equipment, imported from Japan, was the most advanced in North America for cutting precise shapes and sizes of chicken. That brought demand from across Canada and into the United States and Elmira Poultry was looking for chicken from as far away as Newfoundland.

Sweid and Hallmark are both private companies specializing in further processing poultry. Sweid also does some beef.

In addition to Elmira Poultry, Sweid has plants in Langley and Burnaby, B.C. It employs about 500 people.

Maple Leaf’s new plants on schedule

The day after Michael McCain met with investors to brief them on the company’s performance and plans, the Globe and Mail says it’s the target of several buyers.
The Globe says Smithfield Foods made a bid for the company’s meat-processing division in late March, that Kraft Foods Inc. and Hormel Meats Corp. are checking it out and that Groupo Bimbo of Mexico, an international giant in the baking business, might make a bid.
McCain told investors that construction is on schedule, so it will open Canada’s largest meat-processing plant at Hamilton before the end of the year and a huge distribution centre at Highways 401 and 6 in July.
It’s in the process of commissioning expansions at its plants in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Brampton, said McCain who is president, chief executive officer and owner of a third of the company’s shares.
He said the company is on track with its plans to increase sales and profits.
Earnings before Tax and Depreciation (EBITDA) have increased by 144 percent since 2003, he said.
EBITDA in its protein operations have increased by 50 percent since it launched its protein restructuring in 2007.
The goal is an EBITDA margin of 11.7 per cent by 2015 compared with 7.9 percent in 2012, McCain said by way of a news release.
He said the Hamilton plant will be “one of the most advanced prepared meats manufacturing facilities in North America” and that the new distribution centre will consolidate operations from 19 facilities by the end of next year.

“These and other projects included in the company's value-creation strategy, which was launched in 2010, represent a total capital investment of over $780 million,” McCain said.

Two years ago the company started construction of a $390-million bakery in Hamilton which consolidated operations from three plants in Ontario.

Among other major moves it has made is the sale of its Shur Gain and Landmark feed businesses to Nutreco of the Netherlands, its plan to close the main Schneider Corp. in Kitchener next year and its purchase of the Puratone hog-production company out of bankruptcy in a move to ensure a continued supply of hogs for its slaughtering plant at Brandon, Man.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pig virus now in 13 states

The new virus, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, has now spread to 13 states, reports Montserrat Torremorell, the Allen D. Leman Chair in Swine Health and Productivity at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Torremorell says there have been more than 100 cases positively identified as the virus.

It first showed up in China where more than one million pigs died.

The U.S. hog industry has been on high alert, warned to practice tight biosecurity to prevent the spread of the virus that is particularly deadly to piglets.

It does not affect people.

Canadians, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, various hog-industry associations and swine veterinarians, have been repeatedly warning farmers and anyone connected to hog farming to be extremely careful to avoid bringing the virus into the country.

The swine industry has a poor track record for containing outbreaks of highly-infectious diseases. For example, when a new strain of swine influenza showed up in Ontario in 2009, despite warnings to take biosecurity precautions, the virus swept right across the province in a matter of several weeks.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CFIA giving up on its CWD eradication plan

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is giving up on its plan to eradicate Chronic Wasting Disease from wild deer in Western Canada.
It’s a surprising move, given that the disease appears to be similar to mad cow’s disease, formally known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) which triggered a panic in the United Kingdom.
Both Chronic Wasting Disease and BSE are triggered by prions in the brain or central nervous system of animals. The human equivalent is Creutzfeldt Jacob disease and there is evidence that Britons who ate beef from BSE-infected cattle developed Creutzfeldt Jakob disease.
It could take many years for any form of these brain-wasting diseases to develop, so it’s not yet clear how great the fallout of BSE will be on the people of the United Kingdom.
It had a devastating effect on farmers because thousands of cattle were destroyed to eradicate the disease and the public lost confidence in the safety of beef, sending prices plunging.
There have been some cases in Canada and the first cow that died in May, 2002, triggered a global ban on Canadian beef and cattle that crippled the cattle-ranching and farming business.
In 2005, Ottawa announced a national strategy to control chronic wasting disease in the hope of finding ways to eradicate it, but Penny Greenwood now says “we have to realize that we may not be able to eradicate this disease currently from Canada, given that we don't have any effective tools, so we may be looking at switching from eradication to control."
There is no reliable test for the disease until after an animal has died and the brain can be examined. Greenwood is national manager of domestic disease control for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The agency is working with the provinces and the game-ranching industry to come up with a better plan because “we feel that the current program that we have had in place for chronic wasting disease ... is not effective in achieving its goals,'' Greenwood said.
The disease has also shown up in herds of farmed elk, mainly in Saskatchewan. That has prompted the sacrifice of some large herds.
All of this raises some huge questions. Is CWD similar to BSE? Could it cause Creutzfeldt Jakob disease? Could it spread from not only deer to elk, but also to cattle?
And if we don't know the answers to those questions, why aren't we willing to do whatever it takes to eradicate the disease?

Powell fingers reason for poor food safety

Dr. Doug Powell, in a hard-hitting editorial today, says food safety in the North American meat industry is not improving because the inspectors, the politicians and the companies – “none of them get food safety.”

He says the Canadian scandal at XL Foods Inc. of Brooks, Alta. came four years after a similar scandal at Maple Leaf Food Inc. because nothing really changed. The people kept doing what they were doing before.

“It’s easy: no knowledge, no hard questions, protecting turf, and a minister of agriculture who is still inexplicably minister,” Powell wrote about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Powell earned his doctorate in food-safety communications from the University of Guelph and now is at Kansas State University where he continues to run a news service that scans the globe for information related to food safety.

Powell quotes from an editorial in the New York Times which praises the U.S. government for promising better training for inspectors and audits to check that they’re doing their jobs well.

That’s exactly the response in Canada to both the Listeria outbreak that resulted in the death of at least 23 people who ate Maple Leaf meats and the largest beef recall in Canadian history when E. coli 0157:H7 was identified in meat from the XL Foods Inc. plant last year.

The problem is far more systemic and far more rooted in human behavior than anything more training is going to fix,” writes Powell.

“The definition of crazy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

“Time for something different.”

I've been reporting about food-safety lapses in the Canadian meat industry for at least 35 years and, other than DNA tests that can link food-poisoning outbreaks to food the people ate, I haven't seen nearly enough reform in the corporate, CFIA or political performance.

Monday, June 17, 2013

U.S. egg prices set record

The wholesale price of eggs shot up at a record pace during May in the United States, hitting highs of $1.25 to $1.29 per dozen in the Northeastern states.

That was a 42 per cent increase from April. There has never been a price spike so sharp.

Avian influenza in Mexico is the reason because Mexico increased imports from the U.S.

Mexican production is increasing now and U.S. prices have been coming down almost as fast as they went up.

The current wholesale prices are ranging from 87 to 91 cents a dozen.

When the U.S. price rises, it leaves more money in the pockets of Canadian egg farmers because it doesn’t cost them as much to underwrite the diversion of eggs from the fresh table market to processing.

The price for processing eggs tracks U.S. prices in a policy designed to keep the Canadian market for Canadian producers.

The result is a much lower price for Canadian eggs for processing than for the fresh-egg market.

Fish farming tops beef

Fish farming topped beef production in 2012, says the Environmental think tank Earth Policy Institute.

It estimates fish farming yields at 66 million tonnes and, for the first time, more than beef at 63 million tonnes.

The Earth Policy Institute says this year fish farming may surpass fish caught in the wild.

The volume of fish caught in the wild has plateaued in recent years, beef production has been in decline since the 1980s and fish farming has been gaining.

Dutch will try to end tail docking

Dutch hog farmers have promised to try ending the practice of tail docking.

Dutch Union of Pig Producers (NVV) and the Dutch Agri & Horticultural Organization (LTO) say they aim to end tail tocking in the long term, step by step, and on the condition that it can be done responsibly.

The initiative is supported by companies, institutes and organizations such as feed supplier Coppens, breeding company Topigs, the Royal Netherlands Veterinary Association, retailer Vion, the Dutch animal welfare organization Dierenbescherming Wageningen University & Research Centre.

Those signing the declaration aim to research solutions against tail biting in existing barns and in affordable novel housing concepts.

There are differences of opinion among Dutch farmers about loose housing.

Pork packers discount hogs who have infected tails or stubs and there is no bonus for marketing hogs whose tails have not been docked.

There is an agreement that any additional costs involved with giving up tail docking will be shared across the supply chain.

There is an estimate that there is an incidence of about two per cent of tail biting in the industry and that it costs farmers about two million Euros per year.

Factors that might reduce tail biting are believed to be genetics, feeding, climate and distraction material.

The Dutch intend to ban castration by Jan. 1, 2015.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sobeys buys Canada Safeway chain

 Sobeys has a $5.8-billion deal to buy Canada Safeway.

It consolidates Sobeys number two position, behind Loblaws, in the supermarket industry, but it might also squeeze farm prices and profits.
Kevin Grier of the George Morris Centre says he expects this deal will spread price competition familiar in Ontario to Western Canada where Loblaws and Safeway and the Co-operative supermarket competitors have tended to tip-toe around each other.

“It has been a high-price region with grocers keeping their powder dry and not stirring each other up too much,” Grier told the Globe and Mail.

If Sobeys and Loblaws transplant their Ontario pricing strategies to Western Canada, it will bring some bargain prices for shoppers, but that also means the chains will be pressuring suppliers to lower their prices and they will push down on farmers who are a weaker link in the supply chain.

Sobeys will certainly use the increased buying volume it achieves with this deal to demand higher volume discounts and a range of discounts and allowances from suppliers.

Sobeys gets 213 stores in this deal, many of them in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, to add to the 1,300 stores it already either owns or franchises under banners such as IGA, Foodland and FreshCo.

Loblaws has sales of about $31 billion a year; the combination of Sobeys and Canada Safeway will be about $24 billion. Metro Inc. now becomes a distant third in Canadian market share.

Sobeys indicated it will sell Canada Safeway’s real estate to Crombie Real Estate Investment Trust for $1 billion, a company the Sobey family established to own Sobeys store properties.

Good and bad nutrition news for eggs

Eating an egg a day will not increase your risk of heart disease or stroke, according to a new research report posted online by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

However, it will increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and, if you already suffer from Type 2 diabetes, it will significantly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study is what’s know as a metaanalysysis because it analyses the results from 16 studies that followed egg eaters, or those who don’t eat any or many eggs, for between seven and 20 years.

Healthy people who eat an egg a day were no more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke than anybody else.

But their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increased by 42 per cent.

Those who had Type 2 diabetes and ate an egg a day increased their risk of heart disease or stroke by 69 per cent.

The authors of the study are Jan Yel Shin, Pengcheng Xui,  Yasuyuki Nakamura and Ka He.

Chicken board studying cost-of-production formula

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board is undertaking a joint review of its cost-of-production formula that guides the prices it charges processors.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of blistering criticisms leveled by Glenn Black of Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, who has posted data and charts showing how chicken-feed prices in Ontario have risen sharply and far more than feed for livestock and dairy cattle and by far more than poultry-feed prices in the United States.

The review will be done jointly with the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors whose members not only dominate the chicken-processing industry but are hold significant market shares in chicken-feed production and hatcheries.

The chicken board says it’s going to use the “best-in-class methodology” for the study that will involve visiting some farms.

It says one of the “key elements” of this study is “ensuring data defensibility”.

Black has been engaging in research to embarrass the chicken board which has refused his push on behalf of small-flock chicken farmers to have the board increase its exemption from having to own quota from 300 to 2000 chickens per six-week quota period.

In his most recent posting on his website, he draws attention to a huge increase in imports of “spent fowl” from the United States and says that has taken up about five per cent of the Ontario market for chicken.

The chicken board raised the issue of spent fowl imports when the leaders of five supply-management marketing boards met with Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne on June 6.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chicken appeal adjourned indefinitely

The appeal the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors has filed against the chicken board’s specialty-markets policy has been adjourned indefinitely.

The Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has posted a note on its website saying that the appeal, which was first scheduled to begin June 12, then delayed to June 25, has now been “adjourned to a date to be determined.”

There were two pressing reasons for the chicken board to implement the new policy.

One was to find chicken to supply the demand for kosher-protocol chicken after Sargent Farms bought the only kosher chicken-processing plant in the province, Chai Kosher Poultry of Toronto.

Now a group of investors, headed by Perl’s Kosher Foods, has a deal to rent the Chai plant and use the Chai name to meet the demand. The chicken board is providing initial chickens to get the plant running again and Sargent Farms has said it will supply chickens.

The other remains a huge issue: CAMI International Poultry Inc. has been left only a fraction of the chickens it requires to meet the demand for Hong Kong dressed chicken popular in the Asian markets of the Greater Toronto area. Its supply was sharply reduced when the Ontario and Quebec chicken marketing boards and large-volume processors struck a deal to cut off inter-provincial trade in live chicken.

CAMI was sourcing about 70 per cent of its chicken supply from Quebec producers and, unlike other Ontario processors, the marketing board has not ensured that it can get the birds it needs from Ontario farmers who can no longer ship birds to Quebec.

Ironically, a judge has ruled that a group of chicken farmers in Eastern Ontario can continue to market their birds to processors in Quebec. That decision came as the conclusion to a long legal battle.
CAMI is also asking the courts to intervene so it can buy the chickens the company needs to meet the Asian-market demand.

I find it ironic - no, maddening - that the Ontario chicken industry has been able to relatively swiftly find a solution for the Jewish community’s demand for kosher chicken, but has shown no inclination to satisfy the Asian community’s demand for Hong Kong dressed chicken.