Monday, June 30, 2014

Americans need “cooking for dummies’” advice

Americans break a lot of rules when it comes to cooking chicken, according to a study by the University of California at Davis.

About 65 per cent of the cooks didn’t wash their hands with soap and water before and after handling raw chicken and turkeys.

That means they’re likely to spread harmful bacteria which, according to other studies, are on a majority of birds bought at supermarkets.

Those who did wash didn’t do it long or thoroughly enough. Only 10 per cent who did wash kept it up for the recommended 20 seconds; a third didn’t use soap.

About half washed their raw chickens and turkeys in the sink, which is a no-no.

“The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking,” said the report’s author, Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at the university.

Forty percent failed to cook their poultry enough, regardless of preparation method; only 29 percent knew the correct temperature of 75 degrees Celsius (165 Fahrenheit) recommended by the United States Depsrtment of Agriculture.

Few used a thermometer; only 48 per cent owned one.

Most eye-balled results. Nobody calibrated their thermometers to ensure accuracy. 

Based on the study’s findings, a coalition of agriculture and food safety partners, is launching an educational campaign to increase consumer knowledge about safe food preparation practices in the home.

Partners include the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the University of California at Davis, the California Poultry Federation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Northwest Chicken Council, Partnership for Food Safety Education and Foster Farms.

Hunter takes issue with Captan report

Craig Hunter, pesticides watchdog for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, is taking issue with a Health Canada report on Captan.

He says the quality is highly suspect and the report appears to have been prepared to come to a predetermined decision to ban the continued use of Captan to control many fungal diseases.

He questions how Health Canada’s reviewers could reach conclusions completely at odds with their counterparts at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, European pesticide reviewers and the Canadian review completed in 1980.

He questions why there is no reference the 1980 study in the footnotes, yet the authors developed a number of computer models to come to imagined conclusions about potential harmful effects of using Captan.

Hunter says it would make more sense to use actual hard data instead of models which have in some cases been stacked one on top of another to develop a worst-case scenario.

For example, he says it’s possible to gather real data to compare the health of workers who make and package Captan with office workers who have no direct exposure to Captan. 

For another example, he says Captan has been so widely used for 60 years that it’s possible to track the health of farmers and farm employees and compare with the general Canadian population.

“Instead ‘models’ of worse case scenarios were used to reach conclusions that defy common sense,” writes Hunter in The Grower magazine for fruit and vegetable producers.

He says restricting the use of Captan would raise other risks, such as the emergence of diseases that would need to be controlled by narrower-spectrum pesticides, giving rise to an increase in resistant strains of the diseases.

Hunter also says the civil servants at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency who wrote the report ought to be identified. They are at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And certainly Hunter’s opinions are public. Why not these critics so their track record could be assessed?

Hunter notes that an anti-pesticide bias seems to have surfaced among the PMRA reviews over the last five years, so he’d like to know if it’s recent hires who are writing these reports or whether it’s veterans at the PMRA for whom he says he has a lot of respect.

“Are they afraid to stand behind the decisions over their names?” Hunter asks.

“In all conscience, this report should be shredded and a new start made. Anything less is unacceptable,” writes Hunter.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Harvest Meats recalled

Harvest Meats Co. Ltd. is in the midst of a huge recall of its processed meats from markets extending from Ontario and Quebec to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

The products are suspected of contamination with “unsuitable ingredients,” says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on its website. It does not identify those ingredients.

The recalled products are several types each of bologna, sausage, and wieners.

The recall also applies to Northern Natural Processing products from the company based in Yorkton, Sask.

Time to scrap the temporary worker program

It's time to scrap the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, including the program for seasonal workers on fruit and vegetable farms.

There is no doubt that farmers want reliable and compliant workers, but they don't need to be people brought in on temporary work permits that restrict them to a specific employer.

They could be immigrants with the full range of Canadian rights and privileges.

It would also be helpful for the Canadian agriculture industry to shed itself of the bad reputation that has developed over temporary foreign workers.

The Globe and Mail, in an editorial today, hits the nail on the head, saying:

"Canada has grown and prepared by being an immigration country.

"The problem with temporary foreign workers is not that they are workers.

"It is that they are temporary and foreign tied to their employers like indentured servants and constantly under threat of losing their right to work and their right to remain in Canada if they displease that employer.

"Canadians in the work force, including immigrants, suffer from none of those disabilities.

"Canada needs more citizens, fewer guests."

I have been told by farmers that they prefer temporary foreign workers because they are housed on the farm, ready to begin working at 7 a.m. and willing to continue working all day. 

That, I was told, is a lot more convenient than trying to arrange transportation for refugees and recent immigrants living in Kitchener and Waterloo, even though I was talking to them about experienced farmers eager to work hard to get off of welfare.

Sure, indentured slaves willing to work hard are convenient and profitable for employers. But it's not just, it's not fair and it's not right. I needs to end.

Feds unveil maple syrup grading standards

The federal government has unveiled its proposals for maple syrup standards and, as expected, it is creating consternation and confusion in the industry.

Quebec is signaling that it may challenge the standards as an infringement on its provincial jurisdiction.

Ontario is unlikely to be happy because it introduced its own standards and names a year ago, and required producers to apply drop the “Canada” prefix and use “Ontario” grade whatever.

The Ontario grades, regulated by provincial law, are now either Ontario No. 1 or Ontario Processing Grade.

All maple syrup offered for retail sale must carry one of these two grade names.

Ontario No. 1 is broken into five colours – extra light, light, medium, amber and dark.

The federal colour proposals are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark Strong.

The federal grading standards are Canada A and Processing Grade.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says 207 businesses will be affected if its proposals are adopted.

Most Ontario maple syrup is sold inside the province where the federal government can’t over-rule provincial legislation. 

But the federal government has jurisdiction over trade among the provinces and both imports and exports. Quebec is a major exporter to the rest of Canada and to other countries.

Its proposals, says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, will bring Canada in line with U.S. names and standards and therefore facilitate trade.

Ontario producers got a heads up when Paul Bailey spoke at regional producer information meetings during January and February. He is risk identification and management co-ordinator in the Food of Plants Origin in the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

In a meeting at St. Jacobs in January, for example, he warned producers they need to apply the “Ontario” prefix to their grading. He also said the federal government was in the process of considering changes to bring federal standards in line with international ones and said it was uncertain what this would mean for the new Ontario regulations.

Quebec cheese maker recalls tainted products

La Fromagerie Le D├ętour (2003) Inc. of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec, is recalling two brands of cheese because of Staphylococcus toxin-producing bacteria.

The brands are Le Verdict d'Alexina and Grey Owl, both distributed nationally.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sobeys to close 50 to 60 stores

Sobeys says it will close 50 to 60 of its least profitable stores this year.

It is also converting some from Sobeys to FreshCo, such as the supermarket it owns in Cambridge.

About 60 per cent of the closures will be in Western Canada where the company bought Canada Safeway’s stores for $5.8 billion in the biggest supermarket deal in a decade.

Loblaws bought the Shopper’s Drug Mart chain of pharmacies.

Kevin Grier of the George Morris Centre told Marina Strauss of the Globe and Mail that he doubts Sobeys closures will be the only ones this year.

Expansions by Wal-Mart and the arrival of Target have increased the store space for marketing groceries, so analysts say something has to give.

U.S. ag fee at border riles truckers

The Canadian Trucking Alliance is angry about a new border-crossing charge being imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The department says the increase is needed to cover the cost of food inspections.

But the Canadian Trucking Alliance says it’s not fair that all truckers, no matter what they’re carrying or even if their trucks are empty, have to pay the fee.

It’s increasing from $105 per truck per year to $320. For single crossings without a pass, the increase is from $5.25 to $8.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance figures the increase will add $15.5 million a year to border-crossing costs and claims it’s a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In 1999 the Alliance won a court challenge over a U.S. border-crossing fee increase.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

A faster test for E. coli 0157:H7

Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a faster test to detect E. coli 0157:H7 in the beef-production and processing system.

The test involves detecting four genes in the bacteria that is dangerous to people because it produces poisons that can wipe out kidneys and can kill.

It was the bacteria involved in the Walkerton water scandal and in the XL Foods Inc. record-breaking beef recall.

The researchers say the test is not only rapid, but also less labor-intensive than current detection methods.

The method can also be automated and many samples can be tested in short order.

"Developing a method to detect E. coli before it can potentially contaminate the food supply benefits the beef industry by preventing costly recalls but also benefits the consumer by ensuring the safety of the beef supply," said Lance Noll, master's student in veterinary biomedical science.

Knocking out the antibiotic resistant gene

A researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton has discovered something that will knock out the gene that equips bacteria with its ability to survive an attack by antibiotics.

The discovery holds promise for restoring the power of antibiotics that have been rendered ineffective by antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Gerry Wright, a biochemistry professor, led the team that found the gene knockout substance in a soil sample from Nova Scotia.

It knocks out NDM-1, a gene that Danish researchers have identified as key to providing resistance to a broad range of antibiotics.

So far the research has provided positive results with mice, but it’s still a long way from approvals for medical use.

The medical profession is, however, keenly interested because so many bacteria that cause infections and diseases have become resistant to almost all antibiotics.

The discovery also holds exciting potential for treating animal and poultry diseases and infections.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Leal’s now Minister of OMAFRA

Jeff Leal, Minister of Rural Affairs in the last Liberal cabinet, is now the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Premier Kathleen Wynne gave her agriculture ministry portfolio to Leal and is once again merging the two portfolios.

When Wynne took over as premier, she split the two portfolios and took agriculture for herself.

Leal represents Peterborough.

I hope the old signs, papers with OMAFRA letterhead, etc., were kept in storage. If not, the sign makers, designers and printing companies will no doubt be delighted to sell OMAFRA new stuff.

Mussel says radical dairy reforms needed

Canada’s dairy industry needs to adopt more radical reforms than it has so far considered, says Al Mussel, senior policy analyst at the George Morris Centre.

For example, he says provincial balkanization needs to end so the industry can have a national marketplace, particularly for processing companies so they can achieve economies of scale.

The marketing boards have been making moves towards national milk pricing and pooling, but Mussel says these reforms fall short of what’s going to be needed to face increasing challenges, such as intensifying import pressures.

“The new deal that needs to be struck between the federal government, provincial governments, and producers is to make dairy policy truly national, and in return the system may be sustainable and capable of delivering on the demands of its stakeholders,” writes Mussel in his final of a series of reports on the Canadian dairy industry.

“Failure to secure this deal places the system under risk of renewed balkanization and prolonged lack of investment in dairy processing,” he says.

Mussel says politicians need to consult today’s dairy farmers about what they want from the system.

Today’s industry and its challenges and opportunities have changed from the 1970s when national supply management took hold.

The full report is posted on the George Morris Centre website at .

Cracks, dirts sold as Grade A eggs

Cracked and dirty eggs continued to be packed into retail-ready Grade A cartons by Gray Ridge Eggs last year.

The information is detailed in reports released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in response to an application under the Access to Information system.

I obtained a copy of the documents released to the applicant, which was somebody else.

Gray Ridge has been revealed before to be packaging cracked and dirty eggs in Grade A retail cartons as documented in Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports I have obtained for several previous years.

It is accused, along with Burnbrae Farms Ltd., of cheating on Grade A standards in a lawsuit filed by Svante Lind of Best Choice Eggs who alleges that the two dominant egg-grading companies conspired with the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board to drive him out of the egg-grading business.

The allegations have yet to be tested in court and both companies deny any wrongdoing.

Another set of documents indicate Lashbrook Produce of Elmira, a processor owned by L.H. Gray and Son Ltd., was both importing truckloads of ungraded eggs and exporting tanker loads of processed eggs.

The typical import shipment was 1440 dozen ungraded eggs. The exports where in stainless steel tanker trucks.

During 2008, L.H. Gray and Son Ltd. also imported truckloads of graded U.S. eggs to its grading station at Listowel.

The imports were particularly heavy during the summer of 2008, but they continued right to the end of the year, including one shipment of 1,505 dozen eggs on Dec. 30. Most truckloads were 1,500 dozen eggs.

The importing of graded eggs continued into 2009 and 2010.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency does not reveal who made the original application for the documents.

All of the imported eggs and processed eggs moving to the U.S. passed inspection.

One incoming load of organic eggs, probably from a Canadian source, flunked inspection because there were too many cracked and dirty eggs. That shipment in December, 2008, totaled 127.5 dozen brown eggs.


Brampton company has beef problems

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency seized or detained raw beef four times this year at Brookfield Cold Storage in Brampton.

It was contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The seizures or detentions, reported on the CFIA website, were on March 5, 12, 19 and 23.

The agency also seized pork twice in January at Zadi Foods Limited in Toronto, citing on “biological hazards” as the reason.

There were 10 detentions at meat packers in Quebec, but none in the four Western provinces.

Another report indicates six import shipments were refused entry, three of them for failure to comply with Health of Animals regulations and the other three for “other” reasons.

Those shipments were ham from Spain, bacon from the United States, fresh chestnuts in the shell from China, cured ham and sausage from Spain, cucumbers from the U.S. and chocolate milk from India.

Really? Chocolate milk from India? How bizarre!

The CFIA continues to crack down on livestock and poultry truckers. It collected $320,000 in fines during the first three months of this year, $143,000 in Ontario, $92,400 in Quebec and $83,400 in Atlantic Canada.

Maple Lodge was hit again, his time with six fines totaling $46,800. That brings its total to 32 fines amounting to $223,600.

L. Bilodeau & Fils of Quebec was fined three more times for $23,400, bringing its total to 21 fines and $114,200.

There were five animal identification fines during the first quarter this year, all of them in Quebec and totaling $2,600.

There were three fines and two warnings issued over feed infractions, all of them in Quebec. The fines totaled $10,000.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New York declines ban on sow stalls

New York State legislators have declined to write and pass legislation banning sow gestation crates.

The National Pork Producers Council and the New York Pork Producers on Monday praised the politicians for allowing hog farmers to choose how to house their sows.

But the writing is on the wall as many retailers have announced they want their pork to come only from farms that do not use sow gestation stalls; most have given producers and packers a few years to meet their standards which were pushed on them by the Humane Society of United States.

Canada is moving to evolve out of sow stalls as part of its recently-adopted animal care protocol.

Major pork producers including Smithfield Foods, Hormel Foods, Cargill and in Canada Olymel are shifting away from using gestation stalls under pressure from the Humane Society of the United States and public opinion about their use.

The pens are approved, however, by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. 

Installing new housing systems is expensive and requires different management approaches to ensure sows don't bully each other into injuries or starvation.

The NPPC has stood firmly behind this animal husbandry practice, saying the stalls allow for personalized animal care and eliminate pregnancy aggression from other sows.  

“New York hog farmers are pleased the legislature realized there are far more critical issues to consider than attacking small family farms in rural New York,” said Ed Keller, president of the New York Pork Producers, in a news release issued by the NPPC. 

“Sure, the animal-rights groups had some early successes, but now that legislators are hearing both sides of the issue, they are choosing to allow the farmers to care for their animals the best way they can,” Keller said.

Chicago meat man’s makin’ schmacon

Howard Bender, owner of Schmalz Deli in Chicago, is making Schmacon, which is thin-sliced beef from a long, rectangular cut taken from beef bellies.

It would normally become ground beef, so his raw material is relatively inexpensive.

He slices the pieces, which are about six kilograms, into thin strips which he cooks at 75 degrees Celsius. His restaurant customers can then “crisp” it for about eight minutes, reports Meatingplace Magazine.

Sysco will start distributing Schmacon nationwide this summer.

Towards affordable chicken

Glenn Black, that Manitoulin Island blogger who sits like a burr under the chicken industry's saddle, sent me a copy of this e-mail to Maple Lodge Farms Ltd.:

Sobey's Foodland is running a thee-day special on whole, fresh chicken at $1.88 per pound.  I have been told it is Maple Lodge Farms chicken.

I called Maple Lodge Farms, and the receptionist told me this is Canadian chicken, no U.S. or other foreign chicken imported into Canada.  Is that correct?

I was also told that this is regular roasters/broilers, not spent chicken.  I understand that Maple Lodge marks their spent chicken as "Mature Chicken".  Your receptionist told me that spent chicken are not recommended as roasters, they should be used for soup or stews, and a recipe is provided on the back of the label for recommended use.

Did I understand all this correctly?

Is there any other important info. that you can tell me about these chickens being sold by Sobey's?

The $1.88/lb price is about the same as chicken retail pricing in the U.S., significantly below the typical Canadian pricing.  Was this a special deal provided to Sobey's by Maple Lodge so as to reduce inventory levels, or others marketing purpose proposed and/or supported by Maple Lodge Farms, or was this $1.88/lb special solely the idea and responsibility of Sobey's as a "loss leader", with no prior knowledge nor involvement by Maple Lodge?

The meat department manager at my local Foodland store (a division of Sobey's), said that he brought in 720 chickens under this special, and he sold out completely in day two of a three-day sale.  

This amount of chicken was equivalent to what he would normally sell in a one-month period.  

Does Maple Lodge Farms have any comment about Foodland selling a month's worth of chicken in two days when priced at $1.88/lb, as opposed to the regular price-volume relationship in Ontario?

I have been investigating the affordability of chicken lately, and would like to share the following data:


This graph shows Ontario minimum wage, the retail price of chicken, and the ratio of these two data, so as to show the kilograms of chicken per hour that a minimum wage earner could purchase for the period 1995 to 2005.  

As you can see, the affordability of chicken for minimum wage earners has been significantly and consistently dropping during this 10-year period, dropping by 31.7 per cent.  Does Maple Lodge Farms have any comment on the affordability of chicken in Ontario?

I have also done a similar analysis for LICO (Low Income Cut-Off) for people on the verge of poverty.  That data is as follows:


Here, for those in poverty, chicken affordability has dropped 16 per cent in the last 14 years (1997 - 2011).  Does Maple Lodge Farms have any comment on these data?

I have also done the same analysis for all T-1 tax filers in Ontario on chicken affordability.  For all families in Ontario who filed a T1 return, chicken affordability has dropped 13.5 per cent between 2000 and 2011.  Does Maple Lodge Farms have any comments on this data?


Thank you for your prompt written response to these import issues.

Somehow I doubt Black will get a prompt response. Or, in fact, any response from what he calls the "Chicken Mafia", being a term he applies to the marketing board system, processors and, I suppose, the politicians.

But I do think chicken farmers ought to mull over this data very carefully. How much additional chicken could they produce at what reduced price? How much sustainability might that approach buy them?

It ought to be abundantly clear to them that the current system is not sustainable, and not only because tariffs are bound to start declining sometime relatively soon.

Chinese infant formula plant stymied

The Chinese investors who built a plant in Scarborough to make infant formula for the Chinese market are running into bureaucratic nightmares arising out of milk-industry supply management.

The company spokesman, Stephanie Song, won’t talk about those issues, but has confirmed that the plant is far behind schedule.

In fact, had it met deadlines announced earlier, it would have been in production last year. Instead Song now says it’s still under construction and won’t be in production until sometime late this year, if then.

“It’s a complex situation. We’re trying to solve all these things and move on,” Song told reporter and dairy farmer Ian Cumming.

Maybe they will move to New York State where Chobani Inc., which also had plans to build a huge plant in Ontario, is buying unlimited volumes of milk from willing dairy farmers.

The Dairy Farmers of Ontario marketing board issued the company a Special Class permit in September, 2011. That gave it permission to buy lower-cost milk, such as skim milk from Gay Lea Ltd. which would otherwise use it to make skim milk powders.

That paved the way for the company to sign infant formula contracts with four Chinese provinces - Zhejiang, Shanxi, Fujian and Sichuan.

The company enthusiastically told on its website how it's 150,000-squre-foot plant would export $100 million worth of infant formula a year, it announced a board of directors that included a former Ontario deputy minister of agriculture and showed the export contracts. That's all been removed from the website. 

Last fall company spokesman Michel le Zhou said about the delays that “we are still under construction and will be producing in early 2014.”

Gay Lea says there have been lots of discussions, but so far no contract to supply the facility in Scarborough.

Cumming says he learned that Special Class permits, such as the one granted this business, are supposed to be for milk that displaces imports.

Apparently somebody complained to the World Trade Organization that this permit would be used to buy milk to make infant formula for export to China and the WTO wrote to Canada seeking clarification.

Canada lost a previous World Trade Organization challenge to export. The WTO ruled that supply management amounts to a subsidy for all milk and Canada is barred from exporting subsidized dairy products that is beyond limits set by quotas.

Canada has apparently not answered the letter from the WTO.

The issue has been raised in the midst of finalizing the trade deal with Europe and ongoing negotiations under the Trans-Pacific Partnership and after Canada was criticized for blocking imports of pizza kits.

“The Canadian government is leery of another dairy problem,”  Cumming said he has been told by an industry insider.

“They (Canadian government officials) are really tired of getting attacked in the press over things such as subsidized pizza kits in Guelph. Plus they don’t believe in doing that sort of thing, ” Cumming said.

The publicity surrounding abuses of Canada’s Temporary Worker Program have presented another challenge because the Chinese company, Canadian Dairy Manufacturing, had its request to import staff from China turned down.

"The company, the government, and Canadian Dairy Commission know, without a doubt, the instant that any product is shipped to China, a WTO challenge will be launched," Cumming said in an e-mail.

There is speculation that the Chinese will move their plant to New York where there would be no supply-management or export issues.

If so, it will be the second major plant that had plans to use skim milk in Ontario, but failed to clear the bureaucratic maze. Chobani Inc. built instead in the United States.