Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hardeman pleads for more federal help

Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman has written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pleading for more help for farmers.

He notes that livestock farmers face insufficient slaughter capacity at packing plants, flower growers had to dump their flowers, fruit and vegetable growers haven’t had enough labour to plant all they want and grain farmers face wild market-price fluctuations.

“It is clear that current support levels for our farmers are not sufficient to ensure food security for the broader public,” he wrote in the letter to Trudeau, assistant Chrystia Freeland and three other cabinet ministers. 

“The agriculture sector needs additional government,” he wrote, adding that they need it now.

He also asked for more support to deal with migrant workers, including federal housing to meet quarantine standards and full briefings so they understand COVID-19 precautions and working conditions.

Hardeman said all provinces and territories agree that more federal money is needed for business risk management programs.

New virus strain in China’s pigs

A new variation of the H1N1 virus that was common in Ontario’s pig population a few years ago has been identified in China.

So far it’s not circulating in people, said one report.

But another report in a scientific journal in the United States warns that it could become another pandemic.

A team of Chinese researchers looked at influenza viruses found in pigs from 2011 to 2018 and found a “G4” strain of H1N1 that has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus”, according to the paper, published by the U.S. journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Pig farm workers also showed elevated levels of the virus in their blood, the authors said, adding that “close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented.”

The study highlights the risks of viruses crossing the species barrier into humans, especially in densely populated regions in China, where millions live in close proximity to farms, breeding facilities, slaughterhouses and wet markets.

The coronavirus that caused the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats in southwest China, and could have spread to humans via a seafood market in Wuhan, where the virus was first identified.

The PNAS study said pigs are considered important “mixing vessels” for the generation of pandemic influenza viruses and called for “systematic surveillance” of the problem.

When H1N1 was circulating in Ontario’s pigs, there were some cases of it jumping to people. There were no deaths, but infected people suffered from severe flu-like symptoms.

Monday, June 29, 2020

U.S. packers get a boost

The Federal Reserve in the United States has offered to help large-scale meat-packing companies.

It’s yet another subsidy in the United States that has no similar help available to Canadians competing for the same markets. Farmers in the U.S. are getting more than $30 billion in trade-related and COVID-19 related subsidies while the main help for Canadian farmers is an offer of loans.

Cargill, Conagra, Hormel Foods, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods are among the roughly 750 beneficiaries on the central bank’s fund of almost $7 billion to buy corporate bonds.

The result of this help is lower interest rates for borrowed money. 

The Federal Reserve said Sunday that so far it has purchased about $429 million of corporate bonds and that Campbell Soup was included.

Of course, in the U.S. farmers overwhelmingly voted for Trump and in Canada not many voted for Trudeau.

Premium Brands is shopping for companies

Premium Brands has built a new $300-million treasure chest to go shopping for more companies.

It has been an aggressive buyer of meat-packing companies, including Belmont in Toronto and Piller’s Sausages and Delicatessens in Waterloo.

It announced plans to issue $120 million in new shares through one financing pact, to raise another $150 million in convertible debt and to complete a private placement of common shares to bring in $30 million.

What it doesn’t use for buying companies it will use for “general corporate purposes,” the company announced in a news release.

Among its many brand names are Concord Premium Meats (antibiotic-free chicken), Yorkshire Valley Farms (organic poultry), Harvest Meats, Belmont Meats, Piller’s and Insernio’s and Freybe specialty deli products, and McSweeney’s and Made Rite meat snacks and jerky.

It supplies sandwiches to Starbucks.

Migrant worker crisis worsens

The COVID-19 crisis among migrant farm workers worsened over the weekend with 96 new cases identified on a farm in Essex County.

And Health Minister Patty Hajdu weighed in with criticism of some employers who, she said, have “conditions that would curl your hair”.

She said up to a dozen workers are in bunkhouses which don’t have washroom or kitchen facilities.

The situation at the Essex County farm, which was not named by the local health unit, was discovered after a mobile testing unit went there.

That was in response to calls by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to increase testing and to send mobile units to farms where migrant workers were unable or unwilling to go to testing centres.

Just two of the 98 cases reported by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on Sunday were due to community spread; at the farm confronting the outbreak, roughly 90 per cent of those who tested positive are migrant workers. 

Local public-health officials are at the site again today to conduct in-person assessments at the farm.

Under new guidance issued late last week, employees who have no disease symptoms, yet test positive for COVID-19,  are allowed to continue working at outdoor jobs, but must meet conditions, including maintaining six-foot separation from other people.

Huge Canada-U.S. salad recall

Streamwood of Illinois is under investigation after several recalls of salad it sold across Canada, the Central Northern United States, including Michigan and Illinois. The issue is Cyclospora, a tiny parasite.

The United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are handling the investigation.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is watching over the Canada-wide recall of Fresh Express salads.

Eighteen Change Makers chosen

The Rural Ontario Institute has chosen 18 Change Makers who will be working to improve their communities.

They were chosen from applicants between 19 and 29 years old. They submitted proposals to “discover high priority community issues and create plans to act,” the institute said.

The 18 are:

Graham Taylor, Chatsworth,
Patrick Verkley, Middlesex,
Jackie Easson, Haldimand,
Jessica Easson, Haldimand,
Alexis Kuper, Mapleton/Minto,
Morgan Dykstra, South Huron,
Forrest Heard, Algoma,
Oliver Jacob, Renfrew,
Emily Kyle, Brant.
Maggie McBride, Exeter,
Kaylee Coverdale, Freelton,
Emilie Leneveu, Quinte West,
Michelle Lutsch, Stoney Point,
Jacqueline Villeneuve, Hammer,
Sadie Mees, Trent Hills,
Elle Halladay, Lanark,
Sarah Kiar, Trent Hills and

Erin Cartan, Timmins.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Backyard flocks proving risky

One person has died and 465 people have been infected in a salmonella outbreak linked to backyard chicken flocks in 42 states, reports the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of those infected, 86 people were hospitalized and one person died in Oklahoma, the CDC reported. Of those stricken, 31 per cent were children younger than five. The illnesses started in January and continued into June. 

Epidemiological evidence pointed to chicks and ducklings, often bought online or from farm stores.

Last year, bacteria linked to backyard poultry flocks sickened more than 1,100 Americans in 49 states; two died and 219 were treated in hospitals.

In 2018 there were outbreaks in 47 states that sickened 334 people and 56 were hospitalized. Nobody died of salmonella linked to backyard flocks that year.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

McDonald’s quietly drops Beyond Meat burgers

McDonald’s Canada has quietly withdrawn its Beyond Meat plant-protein-based burgers after two trials in Southwestern Ontario.

It trumpeted the trials when they began, but said nothing when it took them off its menus in April.

It did say that it is no longer sourcing all of its real-meat burgers from Canadian packing plants, citing a COVID-10 shortage of supply.

It’s not clear whether it is now back to sourcing its burger meat from Canadian plants which, according to a CBC report Thursday, are now back to full production.

Tim Horton’s also trialed, then dropped, Beyond Meat’s burgers.

Ford blasts migrant employers

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has blasted employers of migrant farm workers who have been slow to have their workers tested for COVID-19.

But he also relaxed rules to allow those who test positive, but are not feeling ill, to continue working outdoors, provided they keep their distance from others.

There have been suggestions that migrant workers are reluctant to be tested lest they lose employment are sent home.

The province has also persuaded health units in Windsor-Essex to send mobile testing units to where migrants are working.

More than 600 migrant farm workers in Ontario have tested positive and three have died.

About 10 per cent of results that have come back so far were positive. 

Leamington and Kingsville are now the only places in Ontario where lockdown regulations remain fully in force.

Bayer settles Roundup lawsuits

Bayer has reached a settlement for class-action lawsuits for Roundup, Dicamba and water contamination with PCBs.
The Roundup bill could top $9 billion, but the company said it covers 75 per cent of the current lawsuits and provides guidelines for the settlement of the rest.
The company set aside $820 million to settle lawsuits related to dicamba drift and $820 million for the PCB water contamination.
Bayer became liable when it bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018.
It has insisted that Roundup is not a cause of cancer, but In 2015 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found ‘convincing evidence’ that glyphosate caused cancer in lab animals. T
That finding is in dispute and government regulators in both the United States and Canada consider it safe for use as directed.

Royal cancelled

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is cancelled, only the second time it’s happened in 100 years.
The other time was during World War II when the horse palace was used to house tropps.
“Over the past several months, we’ve all experienced an unprecedented disruption to our daily lives and are redefining how we live, work and play,” said the Royal’s chief executive officer, Charlie Johnstone. 
“Ultimately, our decision is grounded in our commitment to help ensure the health and well-being of our community at large,” he said about the continuing risks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tribunal dismisses workers complaints

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has dismissed complaints brought to it by the union representing workers at MedRelief, a marijuana-growing company.

It has taken more than a year and a small fortune in legal fees to finally reach a two-part decision.

In the first part, the tribunal ruled against the union.

In the second, it dealt with a constitutional challenge that brought in lawyers representing Ontario’s Attorney General and the Labour Issues Coordinating Committee.

That challenge has also been dismissed by the tribunal.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union complained that MedRelief engaged in “unfair” labour practices in the dismissal of some workers and that other employees feared they might lose their jobs.

Prime Minister, Premier, warn Essex farmers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford both warned farmers in Essex-Windsor that they need to do a better job of protecting migrant farm workers they employ.

Ford, who last week pleaded with farmers to bring their workers to get tested, repeated the appeal Monday -- this time singling out some farmers in Windsor-Essex who he said "brushed off" his first request.

"We'll give it another shot," Ford said. "I'll go to the extreme, whatever tool I have, to protect the people of Windsor, and the food supply chain, and the farmers, and the workers."

Ontario's labour minister said the province will increase inspections of farms this week, including the migrant workers' living conditions, in partnership with the federal government and local health units.

"We are stepping up our efforts to work with the agricultural community to help them adjust to the new realities where temporary foreign workers are working and living very closely together," Monte McNaughton said. "The consequences are serious."

Advocates have said the cramped "bunkhouses" migrant workers share on farms have contributed to the spread of the novel coronavirus, and they have called on the province to include those spaces in workplace spot checks.

Trudeau said some farmers are not following federal rules regarding migrant workers.

Fat debate heats up again

The debate about saturated fats leading to heart disease is heating up again.

One group of scientists has published a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology which says dietary recommendations to limit consumption of saturated fatty acids is wrong and that they actually reduce the risk of strokes.

But another group of scientists issued a report last week saying there is “strong” evidence that saturated fatty acids cause coronary vascular disease (CVD) and their intake should be limited to 10 per cent or less of calories consumption.

The group with the opposing view wrote that “although saturated fatty acids increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, in most individuals, this is not due to increasing levels of small, dense LDL particles, but rather larger LDL which are much less strongly related to CVD risk. 

“It is also apparent that the health effects of foods cannot be predicted by their content in any nutrient group, without considering the overall macronutrient distribution. 

Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, eggs and dark chocolate are SFA-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of CVD. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods.T

The group upon which the United States bases its dietary guidelines is scheduled to issue its final report within a month. It is likely to continue to recommend limits on consumption of saturated fatty acids.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Manitoba startup gets $100 million

The federal government is providing close to $100 million to Merit Functional Foods which plans to build a factory in Winnipeg to extract food-grade protein from canola and peas.

The funding is made up of:

  • $10 million in a repayable contribution from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovate Program;
  • $25 million in debt financing from Farm Credit Canada;
  • $55 million in debt financing from Export Development Canada; and
  • $9.2 million from the Protein Industries Canada supercluster announced earlier to support a project for the commercialization of a new highly soluble, highly functional pea and canola protein isolates.

Merit Functional Foods will produce a range of pea, canola and blended proteins for different end uses including: meat and egg alternatives, baked goods, nutrition bars, and fortified beverages.

The plant, which will employ about 80 workers, is scheduled to begin production in December.

Scotlynn worker dies of COVID-19

A migrant worker for Scotlynn Farms of Vittoria has died of COVID-19.

He is one of 199 migrant workers for Scotlynn, a large-scale greenhouse operation, who have tested positive for the pandemic virus.

There are reports that the outbreak among those migrant workers started from an infected Canadian.

He is the third migrant worker on an Ontario farm to die of COVID-19. 

The Mexican government briefly halted the flow of more migrant workers to Ontario, but over the weekend reached an agreement to resume the program.

The federal government will be imposing more regulations, more surprise inspections and more oversight. The Ontario government and local health units are also involved with farmers in implementing the stricter virus-countering measures.

Animal rights activist dies near Fearman’s plant

A woman in her 60s who was attempting to provide water to pigs being trucked into the Fearman’s plant in Burlington has died in an accident.

Halton Region Police are investigating.

C'mon you people!  Is it worth somebody's life?

Animal activists have often protested at the Appleby Line entrance to the plant owned by Sofina Foods.

The province last week passed new legislation that includes no-trespassing zones at the entrance to meat-packing plants and stiffer fines for violations of the bans.

Farm properties have also gained greater protection from protestors and activists trying to capture videos of livestock and poultry in barns.

The legislation has been welcomed by farm organizations, but criticized by animal activist organizations who say they will try to defeat it with court challenges.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Grain Farmers of Ontario holds line on fees

The Board of Directors approved the organization’s budget for the fiscal 2020-2021 and check-off fees have remained the same as last year.

The are $1.21 per tonne for barley, $1.40 for corn, $1.31 for oats and for oats mixed with barley and 80 cents for soybeans.

The fees for corn, soybeans and wheat include financial protection plan coverage.

National dairy traceability launches this fall

Canada’s dairy industry is set to introduce an integrated national traceability program this fall following approval this week from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

It will be administered by Lactanet Canada.

“Providing protection and peace of mind to consumers is vital, and when it is fully implemented, DairyTrace will provide a high-quality, national dairy cattle traceability system that takes our industry’s efforts to the next level,” said Gert Schrijver, dairy producer and chairman of Lactanet’s DairyTrace Advisory Committee. 

“The launch of DairyTrace will be a pivotal milestone for dairy producers, as it will provide the data management infrastructure needed to provide – for the first time – a true, pan-Canadian picture of the movements of dairy cattle,” he said.

Feds considering overhaul for foreign workers

The federal government is considering a complete overhaul of the temporary foreign workers program.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said she wants more surprise inspections of working and living conditions at farms that employ migrant workers.

And she said import permits would be conditional on employers meeting national standards for living conditions.

Her comments come after news media reports about the experiences of some migrant workers employed by Ontario farmers. Outbreaks of COVID-19 and two deaths have resulted in more news media attention.

“We still are at the point where people are sick and people are dying, and work conditions aren’t safe,” Qualtrough told the Globe and Mail Thursday after that newspaper published a number of articles about temporary foreign workers on Ontario farms.

“There’s a power imbalance that exists in this system that has to be acknowledged, so that we can fix it,” she said.

I think the news coverage also demonstrates why Canadians are reluctant to work on Ontario farms. Would you want to work under the terms and conditions faced by temporary foreign workers?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Province seeking views on water management

The Ontario government is seeking public input on how much water ought to be taken from underground aquifers, ponds, rivers and the Great Lakes.

It’s a hot-button issue in the area around Guelph where Nestle has been taking water to sell in bottles.

Residents near the Aberfoyle site, just north of Highway 201 at Highway 6, have opposed applications to increase volumes taken.  That was put on hold by the Liberals and was extended by the Ford Conservatives in 2018 and again last year.

The locals also insisted the province increase fees, which it has done.

Nestle then ran into opposition when it began exploratory drilling near Elora. The municipality bought the property, heading off Nestle.

Then a company from China proposed to draw 1.6 million litres a day for bottling in Guelph-Eramosa Township. That’s on hold, pending the outcome of the provincial consultations.

Now the province said it’s proposal “aims to protect the long-term sustainability of surface water and groundwater and ensure these important resources are responsibly managed and safeguarded now, and into the future, as committed in the province’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan

“The proposal would also give municipalities a greater say in allowing companies to withdraw groundwater in their communities for bottled water.

The proposed changes include:

·       Requiring water bottling companies to have the support of their host municipalities for new and increasing bottled water takings, with an exemption for small businesses.
·       Establishing priorities of water use in the province that can guide water taking decisions.
·       Assessing and managing multiple water takings together in areas of the province where water sustainability is a concern.
·       Making water taking data available to the public to increase transparency of how Ontario manages water resources.

The proposals are open for comment until Aug. 2. They are on the internet at water quantity management proposal


North Carolina judge decides for animal activists

Ontario passed a law this week to shield farmers from animal-activist trespassers intent on gathering evidence of animal abuse.

And in North Carolina a federal judge struck down a legislative attempt to curb animal activists.

And in Iowa, the legislature made a third attempt to pass a law against animal activists.

Some have warned that Ontario’s law will be challenged by animal rights organizations which have a history of winning these court battles.

In North Carolina, the judge ruled that prohibiting journalists and animal activists from gathering and publishing evidence of animal abuses throttles free speech and is therefore unconstitutional.

Sobeys soars on pandemic sales

Empire Company Ltd., owner of Sobeys, Safeway and Freshco supermarkets, saw revenues soar by 18 per cent for its fourth quarter which included the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Sales were highest in early March as shoppers hoarded what they felt they would need during the lockdown – toilet paper, baking flour, yeast, milk and eggs.

But sales from the company’s gas bars declined by 40 per cent as demand and prices both dropped sharply.

Empire’s revenues for its fourth quarter were $7 billion and its profits increased by 45.6 per cent to $177.8 million.

For the year, revenues increased modestly from $25.1 to $25.6 billion, but profits increased from $387.3 million to $583.5 million.

In a strange coincidence, this week Canada’s three dominant supermarket chains – Sobeys, Loblaws and Metro – all simultaneously ended pandemic bonuses for workers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Import permits up for grabs

In a surprise announcement, the federal government announced it is scrapping its review of applications for lucrative import quotas and civil servants will instead be making interim allocations.
The Globe and Mail reports that most will go to processors.
That has already drawn fire from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in testimony in Washington this week.
He said Canada’s dairy industry has a history of trying to negate imports agreed to during international negotiations and said he will be watching closely to ensure American exporters get a fair deal.
The tariff quotas offer little or no tariffs for limited volumes of imports that were negotiated in the trade deal with the United States and Mexico.
The allocations will be for milk, cream, skim milk powder, industrial cheeses, other cheeses, milk powders, yogurt and buttermilk, powedered buttermilk, whey powder, natural milk concentrates, ice cream and ice cream mixes, some other dairy products, chicken, eggs and egg products.
Those who hold the permits can import low-cost U.S. products and sell them in the Canadian market where prices are substantially higher.
The quotas this year will last from July 1 to Dec. 31..
The deadline for applications for both dairy and calendar year TRQs is June 22, 2020. Allocations will be issued on June 30, 2020.
“Please note that applicants are not required to submit an affidavit or an accountant’s letter for the current application period,” the government said in its notice.