Friday, May 30, 2014

Holtrop Farms wins appeal over combine

Holtrop Farms has won its tribunal appeal over problems experienced with Delta Power over repairs to a 2008 Lexion 570R combine.

John and John D. Holtrop argued that the combine they bought in 2010 from Elmira Farm Equipment was still covered by a Delta Power warranty, but the company refused to come and fix repeated problems with the hydraulic lift and motor.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has ruled that the Holtrops don’t have to pay a Delta Power invoice for $25,698 because the work ought to have covered by warranty and Delta Power must pay Holtrop Farms $9,217.59 to cover the bills for repairs the Holtrops had to purchase from others when Delta would not come to fix the combine.

GMO debates rage on

The politics of genetically-modified foods continue to plague the adoption of crop varieties that involve this form of genetic manipulation.

The members of the European Union have decided they can’t unite on the issue, so member countries can do whatever they want.

England is cheering because it means its agriculture and food companies will be able to embrace GMO crop varieties.

French and German politicians are also cheering because they can maintain their bans and opposition to GMO crops.

On the other side of the globe, politicians in California have rejected a proposal to require labels to identify foods that contain any  GMO ingredients.

That would have been the vast majority if all corn constituents, such as high-fructose sweeteners and corn-based food thickeners and additives are included.

Russia bans pigs from U.S.

Russia has banned pig imports from the United States based on outbreaks of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus.

There is no word yet from either the Russians or Canadians about whether the ban will extend to Canadian pigs.

Russian state agricultural oversight agency Rosselkhoznadnor said  “this disease is spreading over more and more territory of various countries including the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan.”
It said it’s worried that the situation in the U.S. is getting worse.

Ontario, where most of the Canadian outbreaks have occurred since the end of January, there have been no new cases since April 30.

Antibiotic ban has huge loophole

The bans on using antibiotics as growth promotants for livestock and poultry are almost meaningless, argues lawyer Ron Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The bans were announced by regulators and pharmaceutical companies earlier this month.

But Doering says the bans are meaningless because farmers will still be allowed to use low levels of antibiotics as a disease-prevention measure.

Whoever thought up the brilliant public relations move to announce a ban ought to be fired immediately because it has robbed the industry of credibility. Who will trust the agriculture and food industry after this?

Doering notes that the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 90 per cent of antibiotic use on farms is for disease prevention.

Presumably the other 10 per cent is for the treatment of bacterial diseases and infections. That leaves nothing under the heading of “growth promoting”.

He also says regulation is difficult in Canada because of the split jurisdictions between the federal and provincial governments.

And then there’s the matter of farmers freedom to import drugs and medications for their own use, a gaping loophole that Doering does not address in his regular column.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Feds provide $13 million for pork research

The federal government announced it’s going to provide $13 million to extend its support for pork industry research.

Stewart Cressman of New Dundee, Ont., chairman of Swine Innovation Porc and chairman of the Agriculture Research Institute of Ontrio said the second round of funding will “enable us to continue the work that was initiated in Growing Forward.
This new program is designed to enhance competitiveness, drive innovation, accelerate the adoption of innovative technologies and practices and ensure the long-term growth and sustainability of the Canadian swine industry,” Cressman said.
The money comes after the federal government negotiated improved market access for Canadian pork in Europe and South Korea. Talks are ongoing with Japan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to get rid of the price-depressing aspects of the U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regultions.
The swine cluster research got $9.5 million for three years from 2010 to 2013. It helped improve pork quality by using genomic information and introduced a precision feeding system that reduces feed costs by as much as $8 per pig.
The new cluster, led by Swine Innovation Porc, will help industry experts, scientists and academics to increase market share and competitiveness by enhancing the nutritional value of pork products.
The investment includes $2 million for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada researchers to participate in trials that help reduce production and feed input costs and enhance product attributes and profitability. Industry partners are providing $4.3 million to support the research cluster.
More than 22 organizations are participating in Swine Innovation Porc.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Rit said “the continued health of the pork sector is crucial to the Canadian economy.
“Our government is proud to work with industry on efforts to stay ahead of the curve by investing in clusters that foster adaptability and sustainability."
Jean-Guy Vincent, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council, thanked Ritz for his leadership and said "this investment in the swine research cluster will allow our industry to engage the best Canadian scientists on critical production and product issues.
“Our focus is on research that is aimed at reducing cost and creating more 'game changers' through greater and quicker innovation breakthroughs that will further strengthen our industry," Vincent said.


PED immunity doesn’t last long

It appears that immunity to Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus doesn’t last nearly as long as the several years veterinarians had been thinking.

An Indiana farm has become the first to confirm publicly it suffered a second outbreak of a deadly pig virus and that has officials worrying that the disease will be even more problematic than they thought.
The farm, through its veterinarian, publicly acknowledged on Tuesday a repeat incident of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has killed up to seven million pigs and pushed pork prices to record highs since it was first identified in the U.S. a year ago.
Matt Ackerman, whose veterinary practice is in southeastern Indiana, told Reuters news agency that the farm’s operators do not want to be identified but authorized him to speak on their behalf.
The state and federal effort to stamp out PEDv has operated on an assumption that a pig, once infected, develops immunity and will not be afflicted by the disease again for at least several years. Likewise, farms that had endured the disease were not known to suffer secondary outbreaks.

But a year after the virus was identified, repeat outbreaks have occurred at farms but not been publicly confirmed before now. These so-called secondary outbreaks are a challenge to efforts to stem the disease, which is almost always fatal to baby piglets.

Neonics not the only cause of bee deaths

There’s a new research paper, published late last week, that says neonictinoid insecticides are not the only reason why bee colonies are dying.

In fact, bees were in decline before farmers began using neonictinoids as seed treatments.

The paper was published by a group of international scientists, including a University of Guelph professor Nigel Raine. They say we need an evidence-based debate on the role of neonictinoids.

Raine was recently chosen to take the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation at the University of Guelph.

The team of scientists says the causes of global bee decline are likely the result of multiple factors, including habitat, parasites and diseases, weather conditions, agriculture intensification and the use of pesticides.

They argue that while pesticide exposure may be a factor, other sources such as bee diseases could be equally important.

They believe that banning or restricting use of neonics would likely not reverse bee colony decline, noting that pollinator numbers were falling before these insecticides were introduced in the 1990s.

A ban could, in fact, discourage farmers from growing certain crops that pollinators need to thrive, they say.

Of course, Terry Daynard, who farms near Guelph, said the same things months ago. Bee keepers and urban activists who enjoy pillaring modern farming methods didn't like his message.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Foster Farms victim toll continues to rise

Salmonella in chicken from the Foster Farms poultry processing plant in California continues to make people sick a year after the first cases were identified.

Fifty new cases were identified within the last three months, bringing to 574 the total number of people infected with strains tied to the outbreak that began more than a year ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. 

More than a third of those people felled since March 1 had to be hospitalized for treatment against Salmonella Heidelberg strain of food-poisoning bacteria.

Thirteen percent of patients developed blood infections as a result of their illness, the Centers for Disease Control says. None of the sickened people have died.

The investigation led to the recall in October 2013 of 23,000 cooked rotisserie chicken products sold at a Costco store in San Francisco.

There have been cases linked to this chicken in 27 states and Puerto Rico, but 77 per cent of the victims are Californians.

Pace of PED spread slowing

The number of new cases of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus is beginning to decline, likely because the weather is turning warmer and killing the highly-infectious virus that fares better in cold weather.

Seven labs across the United States report 187 more outbreaks in the week that ended May 17, down from 189 the previous week.

The latest data bring the number of confirmed cases to 6,804 since the virus was discovered in the United States in May, 2013.

There has been only one new case in Canada this month, and that was the second outbreak in Manitoba. There have been no more in Ontario since April 30.

Ontario took the hardest hit, beginning the end of January, when contaminated feed was sold for nursing pigs. Blood plasma from U.S. pigs is blamed and Grand Valley Fortifiers of Cambridge has stopped using it.

Australia’s egg industry faces court action

Australia’s egg industry faces charges of market manipulation in court action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The government accuses the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd. of cutting flocks to bolster prices.

The farmers who run the egg corporation countered in federal court testimony that they were simply trying to get rid of a “catastrophic” surplus, not boost prices. The trial is ongoing.

The competition commission has filed charges against the egg corporation, its managing director James Kellaway, and two directors Jeffrey Ironside and Zelko Lendich, as well as Ironside Management Services, trading as Twelve Oaks Poultry, and Farm Pride Foods.

The commission says the egg corporation told members in November, 2010, to kill hens two weeks earlier than usual until mid-2011 to avoid oversupply and a ''catastrophic'' commercial result.

It also alleges that, in early 2012, the corporation organized an oversupply crisis meeting with the top 25 egg producers, saying the industry must stop the ''worrying and disturbing trend threatening current profit levels'', as detailed by Mr Kellaway in an e-mail. Farmers were told production had peaked in September, 2011, at 33 million dozen eggs and would continue at record levels unless they lowered output in a ''co-ordinated and consolidated fashion''.

At the meeting, Mr Kellaway offered three short-term solutions: donating eggs to food charities; dumping or burying eggs, and culling hens earlier.

If a producer's output grew by more than five per cent over three years, Mr Kellaway said, they should cull birds up to eight weeks prematurely and donate eggs to Foodbank.

It was not known whether the attempt was successful. National retail egg sales were valued at $566 million in 2012.

''Detecting, stopping and deterring cartels operating in Australian markets remain an enduring priority for the ACCC, because of the ultimate impact of such anti-competitive conduct on consumers who will pay more than they should,'' its chairman Rod Sims said. ''Industry associations need to be conscious of competition compliance issues when they bring competing firms together.''

Bede Burke, chairman of the New South Wales Farmers' egg committee, said egg prices were never mentioned at the crisis meeting.

''We've had a terrible oversupply,'' he said. ''And we do this regularly, this is nothing un-normal. Since we were deregulated … in 1989 and beyond, there's no mechanism to remove oversupply.''

The egg corporation refused to comment on the allegations, but said it would co-operate in court.

Craig Hunter, recently retired from manager at Burnbrae Farms Ltd., Canada's largest egg producer, egg grader and egg processor, has been appointed to Australia's Center for Food Integrity. I wonder whether the Australians learned things from Hunter or vice versa.

Thanks to Dr. Doug Powell, food safety communications specialist, for sending along this bit of news from Australia.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gray loses bid to keep documents secret

Lawyer Alison Webster has lost her bid to keep documents in the lawsuit against her egg-grading client, L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., sealed away from the public.

Justice J. Kitely issued his decision this week, over-turning an earlier court ruling by Master Thomas Hawkins that sealed the documents so nobody from the public could take a look.

Kitely’s reasons will be issued soon.

Webster has consistently tried to keep information away from reporters and the public, but has failed to keep the nub of the issues secret.

Sweda Farms Ltd. is accusing Gray of cheating on egg grades, resulting in a move by the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board to allege that Sweda was being too strict in its grading of eggs from its farmer-suppiers. The egg board noted that the majority of farm eggs resulted in a higher percentage of Grade A eggs, but if Gray and Burnbrae Farms Ltd. were both cheating on grading, as Sweda alleges, then it’s they and not Sweda who are at fault.

The egg board forced Sweda to pay more levies on the basis that it had not properly graded eggs. It also let Sweda’s suppliers know and Sweda alleges that Burnbrae found out and aggressively canvassed its suppliers to switch from Sweda to Burnbrae.

Sweda also alleges that Burnbrae, Gray and the egg board conspired to thwart Sweda’s applications to import eggs when there were shortages on the Ontario market.

Burnbrae has convinced a judge to dismiss all the charges against it. That decision is under appeal.

Webster tried the same dismissal tactic on behalf of Gray, but failed in both the initial court decision and a recent appeal.

Among the sealed documents is a treasure trove of electronic files that Norman Bourdeau, then the information technology officer for Gray, copied from the company’s computer.

Those files are under court protection of a Kitchener lawyer appointed to be the custodian.

Once it becomes clear how much information from those files will be allowed as evidence in the lawsuit, it’s likely that it will either proceed to trial or an out-of-court settlement.

That’s likely to take until next year.

Maple Leaf needs more hogs at Brandon

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is shutting down operations for one day a week because it can’t get enough hogs for its slaughtering plant at Brandon, Man.

It’s been a longstanding issue in Manitoba, but the slowdown at Brandon is a first and is scheduled to last five months.

Karl Kynoch, chairman of the Manitoba Pork Council, says it has been trying for years to get new hog barns built, but government environmental restraints stand in the way.

“This temporary “brown-out” is because of a lack of market hogs. This situation will not improve until producers build more barns to produce market hogs,” says Karl Kynoch, Chair of Manitoba Pork Council (MPC).

Kynoch indicates producers will invest in new barns but the current environmental regulations are killing that investment opportunity. “We have better technologies that protect the environment, but are more cost effective for producers,” says Kynoch.

“It has been a very frustrating exercise. We developed programs which are market-driven, would bring in millions of dollars of new investment, and create thousands of new jobs,” says Kynoch.

The council “has been meeting regularly with government and processors for the past five years to resolve the challenges of insufficient market hogs not matching processing capacity,” he said in a news release.

The council and meat packers “have developed financial packages to lever new private capital investment at the farm level, with some short-term support from government. For example, MPC met last week in Ottawa with government and industry officials to explain the core programs, which would resolve the lack of market hogs,” Kynoch’s news release says.

“The number of market hogs could be increased as we have the sow base and the processing capacity to take the pigs.

“But we need some help to lever more private capital investment on-farm, and for government to stop forcing regulations, which discourage investment and do nothing for the environment,” he said.

 Manitoba Pork Council’s role and mission is to represent the province’s 500 pork producers by fostering the sustainability and prosperity of the pork industry for the good of hog producers and all Manitobans.

Fair trade exposed as not so fair

A study by researchers at London University in England has found that fair trade for products such as coffee may not be fair to the very people consumers intend to help.

For example, they found that 30 per cent of the fair-trade workers in Ethiopia earned less than 60 per cent of the median wage while 95 per cent of the commercial companies’ workers earned as much as, or more more than, the median wage.

The best-paid workers were producing non-fair-trade commodities, the researchers report.

They spent four years and 1,000 days in Uganda and Ethiopia looking into the lives of workers; their data covers 1,700 respondents.

Their study has been published by the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University.

The report is another reminder that it's not enough to simply spend money on charities; you need to check out their performance.

Adaptation program renewed

The Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program is alive, but with a much-reduced budget.

And it’s going to be first-come, first-served until the funding runs out for a program aimed at helping organizations implement good programs.

The funding will also be restricted to projects with national impact; previous programs encouraged provincial and regional initiatives.

The local administration by farm organizations, which has been consistently praised in Ontario for doing an outstanding job, has been cut out. Now the decisions will be made in the federal agriculture department in Ottawa.

In other words, the Tories will have their fingers meddling in the pie whereas before it was a coalition of farm organization leaders.

The program began with $240 million for five years, that was cut to $163 million for the next five years and now the budget is $50.3 million for the next five years.

In a news release, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the funding will go to those who:

-      “seize opportunities” — that is, to take advantage of a situation or circumstance to develop a new idea, product, niche, or market opportunity;

 -     “respond to new and/or emerging issues” that were “unknown or not a concern before;” or

-    “pathfind and/or pilot solutions” to new and ongoing issues, meaning to investigate new ways and/or different options of dealing with such issues, or to test ideas and/or approaches to apply in the sector.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Flipping steaks is better

Flipping steaks on the barbecue every two minutes improves food safety, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Protection.

The grill needs to be heating the meat to at least 60 degrees Centigrade.

The recommendation from many chefs that steaks on the barbecue ought to be turned only once proved risky because some E. coli 0157:H7 shoved inside the steak to simulate mechanical tenderizing survived, even after grilling at 60 degrees for about eight minutes. Grilling for 10 to 12 minutes also killed the harmful bacteria.

It also helps to close the barbecue lid for the final couple of minutes; that increases the temperature all around the steak.

About this time last year, some people in Edmonton fell victim to E. coli 0157:H7 that came from XL Foods Ltd. of Brooks, Alta.

Their steaks had been mechanically tenderized, meaning the harmful bacteria on the surface when it left XL Foods got pushed to the interior where it was less likely to be killed by heat during cooking.

Food safety communications guru Dr. Doug Powell says he has long been in the habit of flipping his barbecuing steak frequently, and now he knows it’s also a good food safety precaution.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Black loses appeal

Glenn Black, president of Small Flockers of Canada, has lost his appeal to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal.

The tribunal has, however, invited him to file another appeal on a narrower basis – only the issue of increasing the exemption from quota for chicken producers from the current 300 to 2,000 per year.

Black filed an appeal that challenged the entire supply management system, arguing that the tribunal ought to prescribe reforms to “get it back on track”.

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board argued at a tribunal hearing last week that the appeal ought to be a class-action lawsuit filed in the courts and that many of the issues Black raised are beyond the authority of the tribunal.

Black countered that the tribunal could be brave, lay out what it thinks supply management ought to look like and then let the courts and the public decide if appeals are filed in the courts or politicians take action in the legislature.

Black argued that about 18,000 small-flock chicken producers could do a better job of serving local markets, niche markets and people with lower incomes, all without taking any more than 10 per cent of the market that is now reserved for about 1,400 Ontario farmers who hold marketing board quota.

Some provinces have higher volumes they allow people without quota to produce – eg. up to 999 birds per year in Saskatchewan. 

Alberta has programs to offer quota leases for organic chicken production and for direct marketing ventures. It also allows communities to grow up to 6,000 chickens per year without quota, possibly a concession intended for Hutterite Colonies.

Black said he has not yet decided whether to file another appeal over the 300-birds-per-year limit.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Massive beef recall in Detroit

Wolverine Packing Co., of Detroit is recalling about 1.8 million pounds of ground beef because it might cause E. coli O157:H7 food poisoning.

So far 11 people have fallen ill, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was notified of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses on May 12 and in conjunction with public health partners from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that there is a link between the ground beef products from Wolverine Packing and 11people in four states.

Based on epidemiological and traceback investigations, 11 case-patients have been identified in four states.

The first case was identified April 22, 2014, and the rest between then and May 2.

The recall applies to ground beef marketed between March 31 and April 18.

The packaging is marked with “EST. 2574B”. Most of the ground beef was sold to restaurants in Michigan, Missouri,  Massachusetts and Ohio.

USDA recalls meat from cheater

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a sweeping recall of products from a plant at Andover, New Jersey.

The owners of the plant, which has no federal meat inspection licence, were using inspection labels from another plant they own in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The cheating is reminiscent of Richard (Butch) Claire who used federal meat inspection labels from a closed packing plant in Kitchener for products from his Aylmer Meats plant.

Some of the product from Aylmer Meats came from deadstock butchered when there were no provincial meat inspectors around.

As with Aylmer Meats, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it doesn’t know the food-safety status of the meat from the Andover plant because it had no inspectors there.

It says no illnesses have been traced to the pork, poultry and duck fat sold from the plant.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture began investigating after it received an anonymous tip.

That, too, is similar to what unfolded at Aylmer Meats.

PED continues to spread in U.S.

There were another 191 farms infected with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus in the United States last week, increasing the total to 8,421.

Meanwhile no new cases have been posted on the Ontario Pork marketing board website since April 30.

Ontario’s swine veterinarians and government officials have been saying that a combination of warmer weather and continued biosecurity ought to end the spread of the deadly virus here.

It kills almost all baby pigs and sets back older pigs for a week or 10 days.

There are estimates that about seven million U.S. piglets have died of the highly-contagious virus. 

There have been no official estimates of losses in Ontario, but the province’s second-largest hog-packing business is in receivership, partly because the virus reduced hog supplies and increased prices.