Tuesday, December 30, 2014

High standards leads to safer burgers

The United States Department of Agriculture sets food-safety standards for suppliers of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program.

Now a survey of food safety indicates that those suppliers are providing safer hamburger than other companies who are not participating.

The lesson seems to be that meat packers can meet higher food safety standards if they are being monitored for compliance and their sales depend on meeting standards.

The obvious question is why they serve up products that are not as safe as they could obviously make them.

Cavendish finds more needles in spuds

This comes after a long lull in the tampering – a total of 10 needles found in potatoes from Linkletter Farms of Prince Edward Island, beginning in October.

The two needles discovered came from a different farm but Cavendish has not announced who the supplier is, saying only that it has narrowed the possibilities.

“Our established food safety processes and technology worked as they were designed. Food safety is the number one priority for Cavendish Farms,” said Bill Meisner, vice-president of operations at the Cavendish Farms processing plant on Prince Edward Island.

“The needles were detected through our hazard analysis critical control point processes and technology. Our employees responded as trained. We have full confidence in our safety processes and the safety of our product.”

It is common for food processing companies to use metal detectors to screen products.

Maple Leaf on takeover list

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is one of five meat-packing companies on a list of targets for takeovers this year, a list prepared by BB&T Capital Markets analyst Brett Hundley.

He notes that Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods have both said they are shopping for takeovers.

The other four takeover targets he lists are Oscar Mayer, AdvancePierre,  BEF Foods and the packaged meats division of Smithfield Foods.

“We think it (Maple Leaf) could be more important for Pilgrim’s Pride to acquire this company, relative to Tyson Foods,” Hundley wrote.

He noted that Maple Leaf’s goal for 2015 is to boost margins to 10 per cent. It’s revenues this year will be about $3 billion.

Maple Leaf is having difficulty managing the transition from plants it’s closing, including the huge Schneider Corp. plant in Kitchener, to its new facility in Hamilton.

The Kitchener plant was scheduled to close at the end of this year, but now the company says it will continue to operate until the end of March.

Cargill drops bid for Shur Gain and Landmark

Cargill has dropped out of the bidding to buy Nutreco, the Dutch company that owns Shur Gain and Landmark feed mills in Canada.

It was bidding against SHV, a Dutch investment company.

SHV said Dec. 24 it owns 18 per cent of Nutreco’s shares.

Minneapolis-based Cargill said Dec. 22 it is no longer pursuing a deal after considering “the attractiveness of acquiring Nutreco relative to alternative potential investments.”

Nutreco bought Shur Gain and Landmark from Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in 2007.

Protestors lose court bid to block wind farm

Three divisional court judges have dismissed a set of appeals from four families seeking to have provincial legislation related to the approvals of large-scale wind farms declared unconstitutional.

The families are concerned about the potential health effects of living as close as 500 metres to the turbines.

The case was considered the first constitutional challenge to the Green Energy Act to reach the appellate court level.

The proposed $850-million K2 Wind project involves setting up 140 turbines near Goderich and another 92-turbine Armow wind farm near Kincardine.

There was a joint appeal by others against the 15-turbine St. Columban project near Seaforth.

The provincial Environment Ministry had approved the projects and the companies argued their projects are safe.

Radio broadcaster Dale Goldhawk had a program Monday detailing how wind and solar power have been granted first dibs on sales into the Ontario grid, meaning that the nuclear power plants near Point Clarke simply blow off steam.

He also revealed that Ontario paid Michigan and New York State about $500,000 to take excess electricity from Ontario on Christmas Day.

The show made the point that Ontario’s electricity system is in a shambles, largely because of Liberal-government policies that force it to buy ever-increasing volumes of the most expensive power from wind and solar projects.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How U.S. newspapers report on COOL

The Star Tribune newspaper in Minnesota reports that “the language is tucked into a paragraph on page 13 of Division A of the 1,600-page Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, better known as the federal budget.

“It requires the secretary of agriculture to change a United States meat labeling rule to comply with a World Trade Organization (WTO) decision that brands the rule unfair.

“The paragraph would eliminate the need for meat producers, packers and distributors to show where the animals used in their products are born, raised and slaughtered.

“The paragraph’s inclusion in the budget is a testament to the lobbying power of the biggest players in the American meat industry, including Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and Hormel Foods Corp. Both companies have battled in the courts and Congress against country-of-origin labeling, which both call onerous and ineffective,” says the newspaper.

“Hormel spokesman Rick Williamson said the company ‘supports the views held by industry organizations such as the American Meat Institute, National Pork Producers Council and the North American Meat Association that the rule will cause consumer confusion, raise food prices, be costly to implement and serve no public health or food safety benefit.’.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tm Vilsick has already responded, saying he can’t change the regulations to comply with the WTO rulings; what’s needed, says Vilsick, is new legislation and that’s up to the politicians who passed the budget.

And why does the Star Tribune report so negatively about the lobbying of the meat packers and not mention the clout of farmers? 

It's the farmers who persuaded the politicians to pass a law that defies free trade and breaks the U.S. commitment to adhere to WTO standards.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Powell pleads for the children

Raw milk, choice and kids
Posted by Doug Powell on 12/27/2014 from Barfblog

In May 1943, Edsel Bryant Ford, the son of auto magnate Henry Ford, died at the age of 49 in Detroit, of what some claimed was a broken heart.

Biology, however, decreed that Ford died of undulant fever, apparently brought on by drinking unpasteurized milk from the Ford dairy herd, at the behest of his father's mistaken belief that all things natural must be good.

Shortly thereafter, my mother – then a child -- developed undulate fever, which my grandfather, with no knowledge of microbiology, attributed to the dairy cows on his farm in Ontario, Canada.

He got rid of the cows and went into potatoes, and then asparagus.

Earlier this month, the latest in a seemingly endless number of outbreaks attributed to raw or unpasteurized milk, contributed to the death of a 3-year-old in Victoria, Australia, and left at least three other children under the age of five with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a side effect of infection with shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

In addition to the personal tragedies, every outbreak raises questions about risk and personal choice.

It’s true that choice is a good thing. People make risk-benefit decisions daily by smoking, drinking, driving, and especially in Brisbane, cycling.

But the 19th-century English utilitarian philosopher, John Stuart Mill, noted that absolute choice has limits, stating, "if it (in this case the consumption of raw unpasteurized milk) only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene, even if it feels the actor is harming himself."

Excused from Mill's libertarian principle are those people who are incapable of self-government -- children.

Society generally regulates what is allowed for children – most parents aren’t having a scotch and a smoke with their 3-year-olds.

Celebrity chefs, would-be farmers and the wannabe fashionable can devoutly state that grass-fed cattle are safer than grain-fed by spinning select scientific data -- except that the feces of cattle raised on diets of grass, hay and other fibrous forage do contain E. coli O157:H7 as well as salmonella, campylobacter and others.

Ten years ago, Ontario’s former chief medical health officer, said, “Some people feel that unpasteurized milk is either not bad for their health (they don't believe the health risks) or they actually believe that it has healing properties because it's all natural and untainted by government interference.”

Except poop happens, especially in a barn, and when it does people, usually kids, will get sick. That's why drinking water is chlorinated and milk is pasteurized -- one more example of how science can be used to enhance what nature provided.

Yes, lots of other foods make people sick, but in the case of milk, there is a solution to limit harm – pasteurization.

Society has a responsibility to the many -- philosopher Mill also articulated how the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one -- to use knowledge to minimize harm.

The only thing lacking in pasteurized milk is the bacteria that make people, especially kids, seriously ill.

Adults, do whatever you think works to ensure a natural and healthy lifestyle, but please don't impose your dietary regimes on those incapable of protecting themselves: your kids.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety in Canada and the U.S. who know resides in Brisbane and publishes barfblog.com


Friday, December 26, 2014

Feedlots spread E. coli.

E. coli from feedlots spreads much further than food safety investigators have expected.

Trials by a microbiology team revealed that breezes can carry the bacteria at least 180 meters from feedlots.

That means produce growers need to keep their crops further from feedlots.

The trials were run at distances of 60, 120 and 180 meters, and although fewer travelled the longer distances, some made it to all three collection sites.

The highly risky strain, E. coli 0157:H7, was among the strains that went as far as 180 meters.

That strain has sickened thousands and killed scores of consumers across North America, including the sensational case of poisoned water in the municipal distribution system at Walkerton, Ont. in 2000. About 2,300 people were sickened and seven died in that case; the water was probably polluted by cattle manure running into the river or wells after a heavy spring rainstorm.

The new study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Lead author of the study is Elaine Berry, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Nebraska. 

In each of two years, leafy greens were planted to nine plots located 60, 120, and 180 meters from a cattle feedlot (three plots at each distance). Leafy greens (270) and feedlot manure samples (100) were collected six different times from June to September in each year.

Both E. coli O157:H7 and total E. coli were recovered from leafy greens at all plot distances, the team reports.

E. coli O157:H7 was recovered from 3.5 percent of leafy green samples per plot at 60 meters, which was higher than the 1.8 percent of positive samples per plot at 180 meters, indicating a decrease in contamination as distance from the feedlot was increased.

Although E. coli O157:H7 was not recovered from air samples at any distance, total E. coli was recovered from air samples at the feedlot edge and all plot distances, indicating that airborne transport of the pathogen can occur.

Until this research, most assumed the feedlot risk was from manure applied to fields or runoff into water used to irrigate crops.

Waterloo farrowing barn has PED

A farrowing barn in the Waterloo Region has come down with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus on Dec. 23.

On Dec. 17, a Waterloo finishing barn had an outbreak.

They are the 68th and 69th outbreaks in Ontario this year.

The epidemic started in Ontario in January and it’s likely that it came in a feed ingredient – blood plasma – imported from the United States.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Black loses at tribunal – again

Glenn Black of Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, has lost another appeal of the 300-bird chicken-production-without-quota to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal.

Lawyer and tribunal vice-chairman Glenn Walker dismissed Black’s request for reconsideration of his earlier loss before the tribunal, and did it without consulting the two other members of the appeal tribunal and without requesting submissions from the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board whose regulations and policy were under appeal.

Black filed his appeal because he wants the 300-bird limit increased to 2,500 per year.

But Walker says in his decision that Black has been trying to use this issue as a “toe hold” to attack the entire chicken board system of supply management.

The tribunal ruled in September that Black’s request for reconsideration was “frivolous and trivial or vexatious or not made in good faith”.

Walker says in this decision that there is a possibility that the tribunal might have been wrong to classify the appeal as frivolous and trivial or vexatious, but he has ruled that it was made “not in good faith”.

He bases that decision on legal precedents that ruled that an “abuse of process” is a legal motion “not made in good faith”.

Walker reminds Black that the tribunal, starting with its decision of May 21 and repeated in its decision of Sept. 24, said it lacks jurisdiction to deal with many of the issues Black raised.

Walker says that “up to and including his request for review document he has insisted on bringing forward issues which this tribunal has no jurisdiction to deal with” and failed to follow tribunal instructions to limit his appeal to the single regulation and policy that limits production by those who hold no chicken board quota to no more than 300 birds per year.

Walker also notes that appeals are usually limited to “one kick at the can”. Black has made three tries.

Walker’s decision was posted on the internet on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

DuPont, Monsanto, bury their hatchets

Monsanto Company and DuPont have settled all of their remaining patent-infringement lawsuits.

They settled some in March, 2013, when they also signed technology licensing agreements.

No terms of the settlements will be released.

The most recent settlements are for a lawsuit DuPont filed, accusing Monsanto of infringing patents it holds for seed processing, and a lawsuit Monsanto filed, accusing DuPont of infringing patents on seed chipping.

According the company presidents, the agreement enables both to concentrate on developing “new solutions for farmers”.

The news release quotes Monsanto’s president and chief operating officer Brett Begemann and DuPont Pioneer’s president Paul E. Schickler.


Americans catch uninspected Ontario pork

United States officials caught a shipment of pork leg flanks that were not processed under government inspection.

They came from BMG Trading Inc. of Oakville and were destined for a further processor in Arizona.

There has been no explanation of how Canadian officials missed detection of the pork, but Americans spotted it.

The product subject to recall is 1,800 pounds (approximate) combo bins containing 65 – 75 legs of “PORK LEG FLANK ON COMBO.”

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “394” inside the Canadian mark of inspection as well as a health certificate number listed as “CERT. No. CERT. 097400.”

Researchers have vaccine for prion diseases

Researchers at a medical facility in Manhattan say they have developed a vaccine that counters Chronic Wasting Disease of deer and elk and therefore holds promise of doing the same for Creutzfeldt Jakob disease of humans, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy of cattle and scrapie of sheep.

“Now that we have found that preventing prion infection is possible in animals, it’s likely feasible in humans as well,” says senior study investigator and neurologist Thomas Wisniewski, a professor at NYU Langone.

According to Dr. Wisniewski and his research team, if further vaccine experiments prove successful, a relatively small number of animals (as few as 10 per cent) could be inoculated to induce herd immunity for elk and deer in the wild. They are considered a threat to spread CWD prions to cattle.

For the study, five deer were given the vaccine; another six were given a placebo.

All of the deer were exposed to prion-infected brain tissue; they also were housed together, engaging in group activities similar to those in the wild.

Scientists say this kept them in constant exposure to the infectious prions.

The animals receiving the vaccine were given eight boosters over 11 months until key immune antibodies were detectable in blood, saliva, and feces.

The deer also were monitored daily for signs of illness, and investigators performed biopsies of the animals’ tonsils and gut tissue every three months to search for signs of CWD infection.

Within two years, all of the deer given the placebo developed CWD.

Four deer given the real vaccine took significantly longer to develop infection — and the fifth one continues to remain infection free.

Wisniewski and his team made the vaccine using salmonella bacteria, which easily enters the gut, to mirror the most common mode of natural infection — ingestion of prion-contaminated food or feces.

That’s how BSE, or mad cow’s disease, spread in cattle herds that were fed rations incorporating rendered brain tissue from deadstock.

To prepare the vaccine, the team inserted a prion-like protein into the genome of an attenuated (i.e. no longer dangerous) Salmonella bacterium.

This engineered the salmonella to induce an immune response in the gut, producing anti-prion antibodies.

“Although our anti-prion vaccine experiments have so far been successful on mice and deer, we predict that the method and concept could become a widespread technique for not only preventing, but potentially treating many prion diseases,” says lead study investigator Fernando Goni, PhD, an associate professor at NYU Langone.

Ontario’s chicken growth detailed

The Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board is revealing details of the new national agreement that will enable Ontario to make gains whenever the national agency aims for increased production.

Ontario will immediately gain 14.2 million kilograms of base quota, yielded to it by all other provinces except Alberta (which is not a member of the national agency), but only when there is growth in the Canadian market. That will happen for the next 10 years.

Then it will also gain under the new agreement which parcels out market growth this way:

1. 45 per cent of the growth is given out to provinces according to their existing market share.

2. 7.5 per cent reflects population increases.

3. 7.5 per cent reflects increases in Gross Domestic Product (i.e. the economy).

4. 7.5 per cent reflects the Consumer Price Index.

5. 10 per cent reflects the Farm Input Price Index.

6. 7.5 per cent reflects the degree to which a province fills its quota.

7. 10 per cent reflects demand from further processors.

8. Five per cent is for “Supply Share”.

Factor eight is not explained in the year-end newsletter from the marketing board.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Avian flu prompts bans on U.S. poultry

South Korea has banned all U.S. poultry imports for 21 days because H5N8 avian influenza was identified in a backyard flock of about 100 quail and chicken in Winston, Ore.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan imposed narrower bans, according to Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. 

Korea is trying to manage its own bird flu outbreak, which has also affected 18 countries this year alone.

British Columbia is a hotbed with outbreaks at 11 sites in the Fraser Valley. More than 250,000 turkeys, broilers and hatching-egg chickens have either died or been euthanized.

South Korea imported more than 63,000 tonnes of poultry meat from United States in the first 11 months of 2014, ranking it as a major customer.  

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety imposed a specific ban covering poultry imports from Douglas County, Oregon, where the outbreak among a small backyard flock with exposure to wild birds was discovered.

Hong Kong imported about 220,000 tons of frozen poultry meat from the United States between January and October, according to the Shanghai Daily.

Canada is in a similar trading ban situation with some countries limiting their trading bans to poultry from British Columbia, but most imposing a national ban.

That has been a huge challenge for breeding companies that depend on exports, including Hybrid Turkeys of Kitchener and the former Shaver Poultry Breeding operation at Cambridge.

Maple Leaf Foods counters rumours

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. issued a lengthy statement today to counter rumours of difficulties transitioning from old meat-processing plants it’s closing to its new facility in Hamilton.

There are rumours that some of the new lines at Hamilton have had serious equipment issues, possibly because of faulty maintenance. Two lines of equipment have already had some replacements, according to the rumours.

The transition from “Red Hots” wieners made at the Schneider plant in Kitchener has also hit snags, mainly because the Schneider process involved smoking the wieners while Maple Leaf’s new plan was to use colouring. The colouring washed off, according to the rumours, leaving a backlog on orders.

The Schneider plant on Courtland Avenue in Kitchener was due to close at the end of the year. Now it’s been delayed to the end of March.

In its statement, Maple Leaf says:
 The expanded Lagimodiere plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba is fully commissioned with only minor optimization remaining;

 The McLeod plant in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is in the final stages of transition and while not yet operating to expectations, performance is improving and variances are not material to achieving the Company's overall strategic targets;

 The consolidation of the eastern distribution network is complete and achieving its targets;

 The expanded Walker Drive facility in Brampton, Ontario is fully commissioned with only minor optimization remaining;

 Strategic capital spending is complete (with the exception of performance guarantee holdbacks and cash flow timing) and total capital spending over this period of investment is largely in-line with 2010 estimates;

Wiener production at the new facility in Hamilton, Ontario is nearly fully commissioned with minor adjustments expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2015. 
Commissioning of the final sliced meats and deli operations is well underway, and based on current operating performance trend lines, is expected to achieve full production by the end of the first quarter;

·      The processing plant on Panet Road in Winnipeg will close December 31, the sixth of eight plant closures. 

At the two remaining legacy facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and Toronto, production has significantly ramped down. 

While some capacity will be maintained to ensure the Company meets its commercial requirements, these plants are expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

The company says that in the past four years, it has closed five plants, expanded three others, consolidated 17 distribution centres into two and built a 400,000 square foot state-of the-art processing facility in Hamilton.

On of the two new distribution centres is near Highways 401 and 6 south of Guelph.

“ To enable this transition, the company simultaneously simplified its product portfolio to realize scale efficiencies and moved from multiple operating systems to one integrated platform,” the statement says.