Monday, September 30, 2013

Chicken pricing formula review continues

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board says there has been good progress in developing a new cost-of-production formula that will go into effect Dec. 1.

But there is no agreement yet between the chicken board and the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors.

They have, the board says in a posting on its website, agreed on outside experts to help develop a new formula.

That includes collecting data from 200 farmers representing 20 per cent of commercial production for Ontario.

The chicken board has already been forced to revise its feed costs to reflect better feed-conversion ratios than it was using, a change that reduced chicken prices.

Critic Glenn Black of Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, and spokesman for small flock owners, claims that change amounts to about $1 billion a year.

Black has also questioned by Ontario poultry feed prices have increased far more than prices for other feeds and more than poultry-feed price increases in the nearby U.S. markets.

He and the newly-formed Practical Farmers of Ontario organization are lobbying for an increase from 300 to 2,000 chickens per year that people in Ontario can raise without having to own marketing-board quota.

The chicken board says on its website that “the new formula will be even more effective at:

·         Providing efficient farmers with a fair return over time for their investment in growing chicken,

 ·         Being more responsive to changes in production costs,

·         Encouraging ongoing innovation and efficiency,

·         Promoting stability and sustainability of the Ontario chicken farming sector, and

·         Promoting increased transparency, accountability and support from all relevant industry stakeholder groups.”

The negotiations between the chicken board and processors are being held under the watch of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

The commission has not responded to my e-mailed request filed weeks ago, asking if there are hearings on the issue and, if so, whether the public may attend.

We're mushrooms. Kept in the dark and fed horse manure! Nothing has changed under new Agriculture Minister and Premier Kathleen Wynne. And the demand for Hong-Kong dressed and kosher chickens is still not being met by Ontario farmers and processors. 

It's a situation begging for either radical reform or abolition of the chicken marketing board.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Smithfield shareholders ok sale

Smithfield shareholders have approved the $7.1-billion deal to sell the company to Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. of China.

Shareholders will get $34 per share, a total of $4.7 billion for the world's largest hog producer and pork packer. The difference between $4.7 and $7.1 billion is the Smithfield debt that Shuanghui will assume.

Chinese buy potash company shares

China Investment Corp. has converted loans into 12.5 per cent of the shares of Russia’s potash-mining giant Uralkali.

Some stock-market analysts are predicting that the deal will lower the price Canadian potash exporters will be able to charge for potash. China is among its largest customers.

Urakali shares are for sale because Belarus says it won’t revive an export cartel with Uralkali, nor will it release the company’s chief executive officer, Vladislav Baumgertner, unless and until Suleiman Kerimov sells his 21.75 per cent stake in Uralkali.

Belarus says Baumgertner used his position as head of the cartel to favour Kerimov and Uralkali.
About 12 per cent of Belarus’s revenues come from potash exports.

Since the cartel collapsed in June, global potash prices have been declining.

In addition to China’s purchase, there are rumours that Onexim, controlled by Michael Prokohorov, is making a bid to buy Kerimov’s shares.

COOL court appeal underway

An appeal court in Washington is pondering an 83-page submission by Canadian and U.S. beef and pork industry stakeholders who object to proposed regulations for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

The lawyers argue that the Agricultural Marketing Service has no right to impose the regulations, that it will be too costly to implement and that it will be a violation of the U.S. government’s international trade obligations.

The lawyers say the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is wrong in claiming that the proposals are “to correct misleading speech and prevent consumer deception” stemming from the 2009 version of the AMS rule.

The rule doesn’t contain the words “deception” or “misleading,” they argue.

What the proposals are really all about is trying to bring the U.S. into compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) acceptance. The WTO ruled that the U.S. regulations for COOL breached its trade obligations because it was unfair to imported cattle and hogs. Canada and Mexico filed the appeal to the WTO.

Canada and Mexico are now asking the WTO to rule whether the U.S. proposals are appropriate; they claim they are even worse that the current regulations that the WTO has ruled illegal.

In the meantime, they sought a court injunction to prevent the AMS from implementing its proposals. It failed to gain that injunction, so the current court case is an appeal.

“Even putting aside the absurdity of a government agency referring to itself as an agent of ‘deception,’ the District Court should have rejected AMS’s belated declaration because it was a plainly impermissible post hoc rationalization. Yet the District Court accepted it anyway,” the 83-page legal brief reads.

In addition, the groups argue that the AMS’s authority is limited to labeling, yet the proposals deal with mingling of meat from animals born in the U.S. or another country.

The brief also says that the final rule violates the First Amendment (which provides the constitutional right to free speech) in that the government is compelling speech.

“Appellants’ members are being irreparably injured, right now,” the groups argue in the brief.  Canada’s pork producers say it is costing them $1 billion a year and beef producers say it’s costing them $640 million a year.

“They will be injured to an even greater extent once AMS begins enforcing the Final Rule on November 24, 2013.

“Some may even face enforcement penalties of $1,000 per violating product. This Final Rule should never have issued. Now it should be enjoined,” the brief says.

PIC buys Genetiporc

PIC and Genetiporc are poised to merge because Genus has bought Genetiporc from Aliments Breton Foods of Quebec.

Genus of England owns PIC. The merger will make Genus the dominant provider of pig genetics in Canada.

Thank goodness Canadians have a strong network of independent purebred breeders!

Breton will concentrate on its organic foods business and will buy its pig genetics from PIC. It's organic-farmer purchases have been a boon to many Mennonite families in the Waterloo Region and Perth and Wellington Counties.

Breton is getting $31 million for its Genetiporc businesses in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico and $8.6 million for its business in Brazil. It is also assuming $5.77 million of Genetiporc debt.

The deal includes its 3,200 pureline sows and Genetiporc’s customer contracts.

Genus and Genetiporc’s genetic nucleus herds and product development programs will be “integrated,” Genus said, and Genetiporc’s operations will be merged into PIC’s North American and Latin American businesses by “integrating the supply chains and merging customer-facing teams.”
Genetiporc had about $62 million in sales outside of Brazil in its most recent fiscal year, but only broke even on the business.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Prof. takes issue with local food bill

The Liberal government’s Local Food Act is flawed, argues B. James Deaton, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph.

First, he says requiring public institutions to buy local food, meaning anything produced in Ontario, will add to the paperwork burden because they will have to keep track of their purchasing. I figure that will more than wipe out any potential or elusive savings from buying local. On the other hand, sellers hope to sell at a premium.

And the province will need to audit compliance and check to make sure the institutions are meeting the government’s standards and aspirations.

Second, he warns that other provinces may follow suit with their own legislation to encourage public institutions to buy local foods whenever possible.

I notice the frequent boasts of Ontario agriculture ministers that the province's agriculture is one of the most diversified in Canada. Ontario producers and processors also supply all of the major national supermarket chains. How much are we willing to lose from other provinces' buy-local campaigns and legislation?

Third, he asked whether “such an effort (is) worthy of government action and public money."

He says one of the roles of government is to “influence the economy” and says “in this regard, policy-makers should carefully consider both the potential benefits as well as potential losses.

“From this standpoint, we wonder if the act serves the broad public interest.”

I would be more restrictive in the mandate I would assign to government. It ought to ensure the honesty and integrity of the marketplace with policing to ensure accurate weights and measurements, ensure food is wholesome, root out fraud and safeguard public health. Beyond that, I think consumers ought to be able to look out for themselves.

So, where were the troops while Butch Claire of Aylmer Meats was butchering deadstock, where are they now as egg graders fill their cartons with undergrades, where are they when poultry processors beg for chickens to satisfy their customers, where are they when consumers want to buy locally-processed Chobani Greek yogourt, why are they unable to shut down Michael Schmidt and his risky raw milk - and the list goes on and on.

Too many of them are busy drafting buy-local legislation and campaigns and doling out grants to start or expand farmers' markets.

Deaton's views were outlined in an article he wrote for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper.

Mandatory pig-tracing system delayed to July 1

The national pig traceability program that was to begin January 1 has been delayed to July 1, according to a newsletter from the Manitoba Pork Council.
There will also be a change to include the herd slap-tattoo number on the Unique Animal Identification (UAI) tag.
The national PigTrace program will be mandatory for “everyone who produces, assembles, slaughters and/or transports pigs,” was previously expected to take effect in January 2014.
Including the slap-tattoo number will make it easier to move some animals, such as cull sows, says the Manitoba council.

There are some pigs that will require an individual UAI number, such as breeding stock moving from one farm to another or to fairs and exhibitions.

PEDv claims 30,000 Prestage-farm piglets

Gary Stephens, general manager for Prestage Farms of Okalahoma, says Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) claimed 30,000 newborn piglets in the company’s barns.

He said mortality rates were 80 to 100 per cent.

Others, such as nearby Seaboard Farms, aren’t talking about their experiences with the virus, but university researchers say they picked up evidence of the virus in air samples taken near Seaboard barns.

There have been 155 facilities in Oklahoma infected with PEDv, second only to Iowa with 181 cases.

The federal agriculture department will be providing its first update since June this Friday. PEDv is not a reportable disease, so it’s hard to know how far it has spread or how many farms and hogs are impacted.

Associated Press reports losses total 1.3 million hogs so far.

Canadians have been on high alert to keep the disease from spreading here, including advice to truckers to thoroughly clean and disinfect any trucks they bring back from the U.S.

Belleville man sickened by blue cheese

A Belleville man is in hospital suffering listeriosis believed to originate in blue cheese he bought at Bibs Wholesale Meats in July.

The local health unit is asking anybody who bought blue cheese at Bibs before July 31 to return it or trash it.

Wayne Tucker, director of communicable disease control/tobacco control at the Hastings Prince Edward Counties Health Unit, said the person is ill with listeriosis following the consumption of blue cheese purchased from Bibs Wholesale Meats in July.

"If anyone has consumed blue cheese purchased from Bibs Wholesale Meats prior to July 30 and is now ill, they should see their health care provider to rule out Listeriosis,"
 said Wayne Tucker of the Hastings Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

Meanwhile, the number of people sickened by raw milk cheese from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm at Salmon Arm, B.C., has risen to 20. One man died of the E. coli 0157:H7 in the cheese.

Beef flavour influenced by forage types

Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina have found that cattle perform differently, and the beef flavours differ, with different forages.

They compared five different forages for pasturing Angus cattle – alfalfa, Bermuda grass, chicory, cowpea and pearl millet.

Over two years, the cattle were grazed on five-acre plots.

“Finishing steers on alfalfa and chicory during summer increased steer performance,” they reported in the Journal of the American Society of Animal Science.

Carcass quality was better for cattle finished on alfalfa and cowpea and consumers preferred the taste.
The fat of cattle fed Bermuda grass and pearl millet is deemed to be healthier because of its blend of fatty acids.

The coauthors of the study are John Andrae, Susan Duckett and Steve Ellis, and Maggie Miller and Jason Schmidt, who were graduate students.

Spinach recalled because of salmonella

Spinach is back in the spotlight of food safety news.

This time it’s salmonella that has prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Ippolito Fruit and Produce Ltd. of Burlington to recall three brands of spinach – Frisco’s, Queen Victoria and Metro.

Distribution is definitely to stores across Ontario and Quebec and might be national, according to the CFIA website.

The CFIA says there have been “no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.”

This case comes close to the fourth anniversary of a major Ippolito International recall of 1,715 cartons of California spinach.

This February, Taylor Farms of California recalled a large volume of baby spinach, including shipments to the Kroger supermarket chain.

Spinach is notorious for food poisoning because bacteria hide in the cracks and crevices of leaves, making them hard to dislodge.

At a food-safety conference in Toronto a few years ago, a Toronto wholesaler who supplies salads to major fast-food restaurant chains said his company will not use spinach in salads because the food-safety risk is too great.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Small flock owners protest Health Canada egg guidelines

Glenn Black, spokesman and blogger for Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada, has written to Health Canada to protest that its guidelines for the egg industry will put small flock owners out of business.

Black says small flock owners already pay more than twice as much for feed as quota holders and “adding a CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) approved egg grading station, HACCP Start Clean-Finish Clean, vaccination, etc. to the mix will price small flockers and farm gate egg sales out of existence.”

He also challenges the assumption that the guidelines will have minimal effect on the industry and says the risk assessment employed “specifically excludes small flock producers from analysis.  

"What is the scientific justification for using this limited risk assessment to ban what was excluded from analysis?

He says the experience with XL Foods Inc., which held a third of the beef-slaughter market in Canada, shows that concentrating an industry in few hands is risky and he notes that two egg-grading companies, Burnbrae Farms and L.H. Gray and Son, control about 90 per cent of the Ontario egg market.
He notes that they are allowed an “administrative tolerance” for cracks and undergrades.
“Either my wife or I wash every single egg by hand, inspecting for crack, and 100 per cent clean on all surfaces. 

“It takes about 30 to 45 seconds per egg to wash & inspect & dry.  We do not candle our eggs, nor weigh them.
“We have zero tolerance for defects, unlike CFIA with a 10 per cent administrative tolerance, which is then exceeded in practice,” he writes to Health Canada, citing CFIA data from its random-sample checking at Gray and Burnbrae egg-grading stations.”

Health Canada posted the guidelines last week and says they are to take effect in December.

Fast says EU deal close

Trade Minister Ed Fast says Canada and Europe are close to finalizing a trade agreement.

He told an Alberta meeting of cattlemen that only a very few issues remain to be resolved.

And Canadian Press reports that the negotiations have been bumped up to the top level and now are between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his staff and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.

Among the issues still to be resolved are Canada’s import quota on cheeses, Europe’s import quotas on beef and pork, patent protection for pharmaceuticals, European access to Canadian financial markets, investor-state dispute settlements and opening Canadian government contracts at the federal, provincial and municipal levels to European bidders.

There was a weekend report from the meeting in Alberta that there's an agreement on Canadian access to European beef and pork markets, but the Harper government later said that's not true.

Even if Harper and Barroso are able to reach agreement, they both will need to seek additional approvals – Harper from the provinces on issues such as open bidding on government contracts, Barroso from members of the European Union.

There is speculation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants a deal before Parliament resumes in October.
There is also pressure to finalize this deal before European negotiators get totally engrossed in negotiations that have opened with the United States.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Quebec victim of Gort’s cheese

The list of sickened consumers of Gort’s Cheese Farm raw-milk cheeses has increased to 14, including one from Quebec.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the company are trying to recall all cheeses made with raw milk since May.

And the CFIA says it has no problem with the role of Yolanda Gort, daughter of the original owners, being the staff member it assigned to inspect the business.

It doesn't surprise me one bit because the CFIA had no problem with the veterinarian it employed to be in charge of meat inspection at the Better Beef Ltd plant renting his housing from the family that owned the packing plant, or with him loading up the trunk of his car trunk weekly with beef he said he purchased at employee discount prices.

When I asked about those apparent conflicts of interest, I was told the issue was raised at the regional, provincial and national levels of CFIA authority.

The CFIA bosses saw fit to allow the renting and purchasing to continue, even though the company's owners were found guilty of misrepresenting ungraded and imported U.S. beef as Canadian Grade A product, and that their plant was routinely found to be short of meeting CFIA standards.

So why not assign a Gort family member to inspect the business her family founded? Too bad about the person who died.

One person has died and the list of sickened customers is four in British Columbia, eight in Alberta and one each in Saskatchewan and Quebec.

Fifteen different varieties of Gort’s cheeses are involved in the recall.

Owner Kathy Wikkerink is quoted by Canadian Press saying we are so sorry and we are trying to get to the source of the E. coli, but we don't know the source and we don't know what happened.”

The farm at Salmon Arm, British Columbia, sold from the farm, from retail outlets and via the internet.

The strain involved is E. coli 0157:H7 which produces a poison that is extremely damaging to people, especially the very young, old and those with compromised immune systems.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Zero tolerance for cracked eggs

The federal government has come out with a set of guidelines to curb food poisoning by Salmonella enteritidis bacteria, and it includes zero tolerance for cracked eggs in shipments to retail outlets.

The incidence of cracks in retail-ready packages of Grade A eggs is a hot issue that’s included in a lawsuit brought by tiny Best Choice Eggs against Burnbrae Farms and L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd., which together account for about 90 per cent of Ontario’s wholesale market, and the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board.

Information gained earlier this year via an Access-to-Information request and court documents in Ottawa indicates that up to 11 per cent of the eggs Burnbrae and Gray fail to meet Grade A standards claimed on packaging because they are cracked, dirty or the wrong size. That was taken from Canadian Food Inspection Agency random-sample checking of the accuracy of the companies’ grading. Almost all of the samples checked had at least one cracked egg.

The guidelines have been developed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada and were released this week.

The zero tolerance for cracks is one of several recommendations that will challenge the poultry industry.

Another major challenge will be keeping surplus hatching eggs from broiler breeder farms out of the fresh egg market. 

The guidelines recommend all surplus hatching eggs go directly to egg-processing plants where the contents are pasteurized.

It also recommends that all eggs from any flock that tests positive for S.enteritidis (Se) go direct from the farm to a processing plant, by-passing grading stations.

The guidelines also call for:
·      All pullet flocks to be tested for Se. If they test positive, they are to be kept out of the egg-laying business.

·      All laying-hen flocks be tested twice for Se with one of those tests eight to 10 weeks before the end of lay. If any tests reveal Se in a flock, the eggs from that flock are to move directly to processing plants, by-passing egg-grading stations and none are to be sold as fresh eggsd to the public.

·      No eggs from flocks that have been moulted by feed withdrawal be allowed into the market.

·      No ungraded eggs be allowed for sale at farmers’ markets.

·      All flocks that produce eggs for sale in the table market be managed to HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) standards. 

Ninety per cent of eggs produced by marketing-board quota holders comply with the Start Clean-Stay Clean food-safety standards adopted by the Egg Farmers of Canada national agency; all of them are tested for Se. 

The challenge will be to bring all non-quota egg producers up to standard.
The guidelines are to become effective this December.

Copies are available from any of the three agencies – CFIA, Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The title is Health Canada Guidance on Reducing the Risk of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs Produced in Canada.