Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trucks fingered as PED vectors

Trucks appear to be the biggest risk for spreading Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, say the Ontario Pork Industry Council and the Ontario Swine Health Advisory Board.

They note that up to 65 hog-hauling trucks return from the United States every week.

Manure, contaminated footwear and clothing and loading chutes are all potential carriers of the virus into Ontario barns.

There have been nine outbreaks so far this year, bringing the total since the first case in January, 2014, to 94 farms.

The virus is deadly for newborn piglets, often killing all of them; those who are luckier lose only 70 per cent.

The Ontario Swine Herd Advisory Board is promoting a highly-successful protocol for bringing an outbreak under control and developing immunity, then freedom from the virus. A majority of the Ontario farms that have had an outbreak have been able to achieve PED-free status.

The Ontario Pork Council has been gathering swabs from assembly yards and delivery docks at packing plants and is providing a weekly report on how many are infected with PED and the percentage of samples infected with the virus.

It’s a clear indication that trucking remains a high-risk potential for spreading the virus. It is more likely to survive during cold weather.
Recommendations arising from the audits at assembly yards and packing plants include: 

-       using separate lanes for trucks returning from the U.S. to Ontario assembly yards; 

-       designating certain chutes for loading trucks that are going to, or have been in, the United States;

-       controlling hog movements to one direction, keeping them from coming back into barns. This includes one-direction flow for three-site setups for the breeding and farrowing sows, nurseries and finishing barns;

-       establishing a U.S. transporter entrance; 

-       improving manure management, and

-       controlling foot traffic to prevent cross contamination.

Maybe the council could publish the names of the trucker if and when it identifies one that has carried PED to a farm.

Also, maybe it could gather swabs for PED testing from the loading chutes of trucks. Hog farmers could help in this regard by requiring swabs to be collected from trucks before they begin loading hogs at their farm. If subsequent testing turns up PED virus, they would have grounds for suing the trucker for introducing the virus to their herd.

A successful lawsuit might serve to frighten truckers into more careful biosecurity. As things stand now, they lose nothing, but a hog farm can be devastated by an outbreak of PED.

Swiss Chalet owner buys St. Hubert

Cara, owner of the Swiss Chalet chain, has bought St. Hubert, a similar chicken-menu restaurant chain based in Quebec for $537 million.

The deal has touched off a firestorm of criticism from Quebeckers who don’t like the chain being sold to a company headquartered outside the province.

The deal involves 120 restaurants, two processing plants and two distribution centres and St. Hubert’s real estat.

Cara not only owns the Swiss Chalet chain, but also Harvey’s, Kelsey's, East Side Mario's and New York Fries.

Roundup-Ready alfalfa coming

Forage Genetics International (FGI) said Tuesday it plans to sell some Roundup-Ready alfalfa seed to farmers from Ontario east to the Maritimes.

HarvXtra alfalfa will include Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready genetics plus a trait for lower levels of lignin which is desirable for cattle rations.

Seed quantities are expected to be enough for growers to plant a “small, targeted launch” of less than 5,000 acres of hay, FGI said.

FGI stressed its decision is “confined to the sale of seed for hay production” and not for alfalfa seed production. All HarvXtra seed production for the Eastern Canada market will have taken place in the United States.

Only commercial sales for hay production will be allowed — and the hay can be sold for Canadian domestic use only, the company said.

I wonder how many farmers want this. You would need to establish a stand of only this variety of alfalfa to be able to spray with Roundup or its equivalent. 

So who wants a forage for dairy or beef cattle that is only alfalfa?

And who wants to put that much selective pressure on the weed population? It's going to create an environment where Roundup-resistant weeds will multiply.

Lambton farm hit by PED

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus has hit a farrow-to-finish operation in Lambton County.

The outbreak was confirmed Mar. 24, but only posted Mar. 30 on the Ontario Pork marketing board website.

It’s the ninth case this year and the 94th since the virus first showed up in Ontario last year.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Morriston bypass promised

The Ontario government is promising to begin construction in 2019 of a Highway 6 bypass around Morriston.

That will delight grain truckers moving in and out of Hamilton harbour, truckers hauling hogs to the packing plant in Burlington and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. moving its products from its new plant in Hamilton to its new distribution centre at Highways 6 and 401, just north of Morriston.

There has been lobbying for a bypass since 1978.

Prestage Farms would receive some $15 million in state incentives to help build a proposed $240 million pork plant in Mason City, Iowa, according to a report by the Des Moines Register.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board is offering Prestage nearly $11.5 million in tax incentives and $3.3 million in job-training assistance.

The plant is expected to eventually create 2,000 jobs.

In Ontario, only one major hog-packing plant remains and there are dire warnings that there won’t be enough packing-plant capacity all across the United States and Canada to cope with the numbers coming to market this fall.

Let the Americans waste their tax dollars on subsidies for the big packers. We ought to realize that they will, or won't, invest without any regard to whether tax incentives are offered.

Chinese finally buying Canadian pork

A long-awaited surge in Chinese purchases of Canadian pork appears to be here.

Kevin Grier told a webinar organized by the Ontario Pork marketing board that sales to China surged by 180 per cent over year-earlier levels in January and have been strong during February and March.

He forecast a slight decline in North American hog marketings during the summer, which is the seasonal pattern, and then an increase this fall.

Many American analysts are saying there won’t be enough packing-plant capacity to take all of the hogs that will be ready for market over about a nine-week period this fall.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fire claims 45 dairy cattle

Fire destroyed a barn and 45 dairy cattle near Maryhill over the Easter weekend.

The Hailey family is guessing that a hot piece of metal or a stone that passed through their straw chopper ignited the blaze.

The cattle that died included cows, heifers and calves. About 100 head in two nearby barns were safe.

Four volunteer fire departments fought the blaze, using tanker trucks water down the nearby barns. They were from the St. Jacobs, Breslau, Conestogo and Maryhill detachments in Woolwich Township, Waterloo Region.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sap still running in the north

While the maple syrup season is well over in Southwestern Ontario, sap is still running in northern regions.

The return of cold weather, including overnight freezing temperatures, extended the season, but only in areas where buds were not beginning to form and therefore giving sap a buddy flavour.

Todd Leuty, agroforestry specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, reports that colouring and flavour were good this season, typical for each grade.

The heavy ice storm no doubt caused damage, but the extent has not yet been assessed by Leuty or the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pork production sets record

Pork production in the United States set a record for February this year – two billion pounds, which is three per cent more than last year.

But this year had four Saturdays and an extra day for leap year.

Beef production, at 1.89 billion pounds, was seven per cent more than the previous year. 

Cattle slaughter totaled 2.29 million head, up by five per cent from February 2015. The average live weight was up 17 pounds from the previous year, at 1,372 pounds.

Hog slaughter totaled 9.43 million head, up by four per cent from February 2015. The average live weight was down by two pounds from the previous year, at 283 pounds.

Veal production totaled 6.1 million pounds, three per cent less than last February.

Calf slaughter totaled 36,500 head, down  by one per cent from February 2015. The average live weight was down by six pounds from last year, at 287 pounds.

Livestock exonerated from antibiotic concerns

Livestock are responsible for only a miniscule percentage of cases of antibiotic resistance in humans and the environment, according to a new study from Sweden.

People account for almost all the antibiotic resistance found in a five-year study by Sweden’s National Veterinary Institute.

They analyzed samples of extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), a type of enzyme known to confer resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics, including penicillin and cephalosporins. 

The samples were obtained from domestic and imported foods, farm animals, healthy volunteers, severely ill patients, the environment and sewage water.

From these 5,300 samples, researchers identified three separate populations of ESBL: one in Swedish food and farm animals, one in imported foods and one in humans and the environment. 

Six per cent of isolates were ESBLa, which are attributed to farm animals, while the majority of isolates were ESBLm, which are found only in humans. 

The ESBL genes in the general community population, sewage water and the environment have an appoximately 90 per cent similarity.

The data also show that animals are associated with a human infection rate of 0.00022 per cent on a population basis, or 85 people in a population of 100,000. 

Based on these findings, the SVA, together with Sweden’s Public Health Agency and National Food Agency, concluded that food is a limited contributor to antibiotic-resistant E. coli infections in humans.

In fact, the potential overlap between clinical human isolates and isolates from healthy farm animals was found to be extremely unlikely, according to SVARM 2014, a report responsible for measuring the consumption of antibiotics and occurance of antibiotic resistance in Sweden.

Pork board to post jobs on its website

The Ontario Pork marketing board will soon begin posting jobs on its website.

It’s building on work by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council.

The council is poised to unveil an online national agriculture jobs board where farmers will be able to post their jobs and job seekers can use the interactive features of the site to be guided to a particular job that fits their needs and skills.

The site will also skim other job boards across the country and list those jobs too so “it will be the most up-to-date national jobs board for jobs in agriculture, ” says Mark Wales of the council.

The Ontario pork board and the Ontario Pork Industry Council will soon set up a trial that’s specific to the Ontario hog industry.

Who knows but what this might end the reliance on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the Temporary Seasonal Workers Program.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chains ok with GMO apples, spuds

The Retail Council of Canada, speaking for Loblaws, Metro and Sobey’s supermarket chains, says it has confidence in the approvals the federal government has granted to produce and market genetically-modified potatoes and apples.

Last year the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada approved the Arctic apple variety, genetically-modified at the federal government’s Summerland research station in British Columbia.
Slices cut from these apples do not turn brown.

The same is true for the Innate potato variety developed by the Simplot company in Idaho and approved this week by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.

Canadian Press asked the three chains if they will market the new varieties and they referred the question to the Retail Council of Canada to speak for them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Chicken appeal shelved again

The appeal filed by the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors has been put on hold again. 

It’s the fourth time since the AOCP first filed its appeal against the policies of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board related to rationing supplies of live chickens among processors.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal had set aside March 30 to April 1 to hear arguments related to the appeal.

Its website now says the appeal is “rescheduled to a date to be determined.”

Saputo closing three plants

Saputo Inc. says it will close three of its 24 Canadian plants and spend $32 million modernizing other facilities. 

About 230 people work at the three plants.

The one in Sydney, Nova Scotia, will close in June and the one in Princeville, Quebec, in August.

The plant in Ottawa will remain in operation until December, 2017.

Saputo owns a total of 54 plants around the world, most of them cheese plants in Canada and the United States. 

Last year it bought a major dairy business in Australia and it also has a major dairy business in Argentina.

Meyer foresees hog crunch this fall

 Hog market analyst Steve Meyer foresees an industry crunch this fall that could drive prices below $60 a hundredweight and last six to nine weeks.
Packers will be running their plants into overtime and Saturdays, putting a strain on equipment and staff, he predicts in an interview with Meatingplace Magazine.

He says the lack of slaughter capacity will probably prompt some farmers to keep their hogs longer, adding weight that will further pressure pork prices down.

Three plants are under construction, but won’t be ready until next year and 2018.

Prestage Farms plans to build a 650,000-square-foot hog processing facility in Iowa to process 10,000 hogs per day and produce 600 million pounds of pork annually starting in mid-2018. 

Two other state-of-the-art plants are currently under construction in Coldwater, Mich., and Sioux City, Iowa, but they will not be operating until summer 2017.

One Ontario strategy, helped along by veterinarian Marty Misener of Millbank, is to export weaners to U.S. farmers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Drastic measures needed to curb Lake Erie pollution

Drastic measures, such as taking 30,000 acres, or 6,300 farms, out of cash-crop production, are needed to curb algae growth in Lake Erie, says a study released by the University of Michigan Water Center.

The researchers found that current efforts to keep phosphorus, which is found in livestock manure and artificial fertilizers, on fields instead of flowing into the lake are falling drastically short of results needed to achieve a 40 percent cut in runoff.

That’s the target set in February by the International Joint Commission which includes Canadian and U.S. authorities.

Excessive levels of the nutrient are the leading cause of increasingly massive blooms, which in 2014 left more than 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, and southeastern Michigan unable to consume tap water for two days because the bacterial algae produce a toxin. 

Another bloom last year was the largest on record. Phosphorus also causes a "dead zone" in Lake Erie's central basin with so little oxygen that fish cannot survive.

Ohio and Michigan rely largely on voluntary compliance, but too few farmers are participating, the report found.

In Ontario farmers have been regulated by Nutrient Management Plans which basically limit fertilizer and manure applications to what that year’s crop will use.

But it’s also clear that Ontario farmers will be expected to further reduce phosphorous erosion over the next five years. They have been reducing tillage, planting cover crops, stopped spreading manure on frozen ground, set aside vegetative strips along streams and rivers, fenced livestock out of streams and invested in expensive manure storage facilities.

Policy alternatives described as "most promising" by Jay Martin of Ohio State University, the report's co-author, include widespread use of the best-management practices and conversion of some croplands to switchgrass or other grasses. 

One called for removing nearly 30,000 acres in the watershed from production. That's the equivalent of 6,300 farms, as the average farm in the area consists of 235 acres.

Jeff Reuter, past director of Ohio Sea Grant and a Lake Erie specialist who wasn't involved with the study, said some cropland is so overloaded with phosphorus that turning it into grassland or wetlands is the only way to stop runoff.

Monday, March 21, 2016

General Mills will label GMOs

General Mills will be labeling all of its products that contain genetically-modified (GMO) ingredients.

Chief Operating Officer Jeff Harmening says “We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that.”

Vermont has passed legislation requiring GMO labeling and the United States Senate voted last week to shelve a bill that called for national regulations that would have over-ruled Vermont.

Harmening said all sides of this debate, 20 years of research, and every major health and safety agency in the world agree that GMOs are not a health or safety concern.

“At the same time, we know that some consumers are interested in knowing which products contain GMO ingredients,” he said.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

French's ketchup has back stories

The decision Loblaws made to delist, then reinstate French's ketchup seems to me to be related to some nasty industry pressure tactics.

It's now clear that Loblaws was wrong when it said it was delisting French's because it wasn't selling well enough.

The real reason, revealed in leaked internal communications, has been said to be erosion of market share for Loblaws' private-label President's Choice ketchup.

I think there's another related reason.

Loblaws has used its private-label business to pressure processors to make better deals. Those who win the competition get to have both their own brand and the Loblaws brands on store shelves. And in some cases it's more than President's Choice, but also Loblaws' No Name brand. Losers are out of luck.

So I wonder whether Highbury Casco Corp. which took over the former Heinz plant in Leamington lost the competition to produce President's Choice ketchup and, related to that, has its French's ketchup delisted.

In any case, French's is back on the Loblaws shelves. That may be a big disappointment to the competitor which is likely Heinz making both its own brand and probably President's Choice.

Loblaws is not alone in employing these pressure tactics. Sobeys and Metro also have their private-label products.

The real losers are farmers and factory workers because they're the ones with the least bargaining power in this supply chain.

Two more named to Humane Society oversight body

Two more directors have been appointed to the Ontario Animal Care Review Board which overseas the Ontario Society of Prevention to Cruelty for Animals.

Luisa Ritacco of Toronto is a seasoned lawyer who has acted for the Ontario Racing Commission, the Ontario colleges for nurses, opticians and veterinarians and the Ontario Motor Vehicles Industry Council.

Santina Moccio of Ancaster has served on the Ontario Parole Board, as vice-chair of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, as a member of two police-chief advisory boards and on the Buffalo-Fort Erie Bridge Authority.

Both appointments are for two-year terms. The board now has 15 members after four others were appointed earlier this year and four last year.

The board became highly controversial among farmers after the humane society seized dairy cattle in Eastern Ontario and dogs from a Mennonite family north of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Biggest supermarkets going to cage-free eggs

Canada’s largest supermarket chains have announced they will only stock cage-free eggs by 2025.

That’s Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro and Wal-Mart plus dozens of smaller chains, all members of the Retail Council of Canada.

The announcement is rather meaningless because the Chicken Farmers of Canada, the national supply-management agency for quota holders, has already announced that its members are to be cage-free by 2026.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies put out a news release to “congratulate the Retail Council of Canada on this decision and to thank them for their leadership.”

The humane societies didn’t put in a single word of congratulations for the farmers who are the ones who will be doing all the hard lifting.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

CFIA union renews complaints

There are staff shortages in food inspection says Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union representing food inspectors working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The union commissioned a survey by Abacus Data and learned that 70 per cent of inspectors working in meat-packing plants say that there are worrisome food safety issues. Half of the inspectors at other plants have similar concerns.

Kingston is raising the concerns as the agency, which has been transferred from the agriculture to the health department, is preparing to revamp its services.

The last revamp resulted in more onus being placed on companies to have food-safety protocols in place and to gather data to document compliance.

The upcoming revamp may include logging the data electronically.

Kingston says the Harper government cut food-inspection budgets by $56 million. 

The Liberals made a campaign promise to increase the budget by $80 million over four years.

If money could buy food safety, we should have had it long ago. It takes consistent discipline and a corporate culture of quality and compliance.

Burford meat packer fined $3,750

Thomas Greenwood and his business, Greenwood Meats of King Street, Burford, have been fined $3,750 after they were found packing meat without a licence.

Investigators from the Brant County Health Unit and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs caught him with 330 pounds of ready-to-eat meat that had been prepared in a facility that was not licenced.

Burford has a bad reputation for meat packing. It’s where Richard “Butch” Claire was caught butchering deadstock.

Kosher chicken plant to open soon

The Premier Group of Companies is opening a kosher chicken-processing plant in Abingdon in West Lincoln in the Niagara Peninsula. 

The province has been without a kosher chicken-processing plant since 2013 when Chai Kosher of Toronto sold its supply rights to Sargent Farms Ltd.

Ontario’s large-volume chicken processors agreed to yield enough of their chicken supplies so a kosher plant could set up business in Ontario, and the Chicken Farmers of Ontario marketing board put out invitations for a plant.

“We are extremely pleased that Ontario consumers will now have a local option for their kosher chicken purchasing needs," said Henry Zantingh, chairman of the chicken marketing board.

The only Canadian plant left after Chai closed was in Montreal and wholesale prices increased significantly.

"The decision to accept the application of Premier Kosher Inc. is the culmination of tremendous effort on the part of both farmers and industry to find a suitable business partner to own and operate an Ontario kosher chicken processing plant,” Zantingh said in a news release.

“The Ontario chicken industry understands the importance of addressing the needs of all consumers in Ontario,” said Michael Burrows, chairman of the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors (AOCP).  

“We are pleased that Premier Kosher Inc. will be in a position to support the ongoing need of kosher consumers to have a locally grown and processed source of chicken.”

Paul Tzellos, president of Premier Kosher Inc., said “this is an exciting opportunity and we look forward to working with the community to ensure that Premier Kosher becomes a trusted and preferred choice for kosher chicken.

The Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) will be working with the Premier Kosher processing plant to provide the kosher certification.

“Ontario’s Jewish community has been looking forward to welcoming the arrival of a new kosher processing plant for several years to provide local Ontario-grown, fresh, kosher chicken,” said Richard Rabkin, Executive Director of the council. Chicken Farmers of Ontario will be working with Chicken Farmers of Canada for an allocation of additional supply to serve the kosher community. 

"This has been a long process and this announcement is yet another signal that CFO and the chicken industry of Ontario are open for business and working to meet the needs of all core, niche and specialty chicken markets in Ontario," said Rob Dougans, president and chief executive officer of the chicken board.

Premier Kosher Inc. is also being advised by Chuck Weinberg, former owner of Chai Poultry.

The Premier Kosher plant is expected to be operating by January will have an initial capacity of 50,000 chickens per week.

It expects to employ up to 80 people.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Senate shelves GMO labeling bill

The United States Senate has effectively shelved a proposal for a national standard for labeling GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas introduced the bill, aiming to thwart Vermont’s law that calls for labeling GMOs.

There have been concerns that allowing states to pass GMO regulations will result in different standards across the country, making the marketing of national brands difficult.

Some, but not all, in the food industry worry that a GMO label would reduce sales.

There is some evidence that the tide is beginning to turn and that many people are beginning to regard GMO crops as better for the environment and healthy in foods.

The current issue of Maclean’s magazine examines that change in attitudes.

Whole-bird turkey sales decline

Christmas turkey sales were poor this year, prompting the national marketing agency to think about reducing production this year.

The industry has 19 million kilograms in frozen storage, up sharply from 14.7 million a year earlier.

“What we’ve seen is that consumption of whole birds has stayed relatively flat, it’s not even quite on par with population growth,” says Phil Boyd, executive director of Turkey Farmers of Canada.

“One of the contributing factors of these increased stocks is that the large retailers reduced the amount of featuring during the festive season by using turkey as a loss leader,” Bill Uruski told farmers attending the annual meeting of the Manitoba Turkey Producers in Winnipeg.

“While in the past this type of marketing did pull through a lot of birds, it’s difficult to understand how this type of marketing strategy benefits our industry in the long run,” he was quoted by Manitoba Cooperator.

Customers who are used to purchasing underpriced turkeys in the lead-up to holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, may balk at buying turkey when the true price of production is reflected, he said.

The national agency nudged production higher last year and that was another factor leading to the increase in storage stocks.

Boyd said the directors of the national agency are scheduled to decide production for the upcoming fiscal year when they meet late this month.