Friday, July 15, 2022

OMAFRA applies heavy censorship

 A number of months ago, I filed a Freedom-of-Information request for correspondence held by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission about appeals Sweda Farms Ltd. filed with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal.

Today I got a computer memory stick with information about 68 e-mails. 

Most were censored. A few were completely censored, including one that was the “information package” for a meeting of the commission directors.

Why we can’t know what was on that agenda, and information about those issues, is a mystery. 

Do these people really think their job is to supervise marketing boards on behalf of the public? Or do they think they need to keep ugly truths from the public? Or maybe it’s simply a power trip. Who knows?

The information does reveal that Sweda withdrew two of its appeals in the middle of the preliminary hearings – one questioning why there are full levies on eggs that are for processing and don’t undergo grading or packaging, the other questioning aspects of the early egg and fowl diversion programs.

A third appeal remained, but was eventually dismissed. It asked that the tribunal direct the egg board to use its authority to manage how many eggs are directed to each grading station. Sweda argued this is needed to break up the “duopoly” of Burnbrae and Grayridge that grade about 90 per cent of Ontario’s eggs.

The egg board argued this appeal was “vexatious, frivolous and commenced in bad faith".

Sweda has appealed that to the courts.

The egg bosrd argued that Sweda had ample opportunity to make this request when it still operated Best Choice Egg grading. Egg board lawyer Geoffrey Spurr said Sweda only raised that issue after it was no longer operating a grading station and filed a lawsuit against the egg board, Burnbrae and Grayridge, alleging they conspired to drive Sweda out of the egg-grading business.

The tribunal dismissed the appeal.

But lawyer Magda Wolanowski wrote in one e-mail that all of the issues raised by Sweda fall within the authority of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to supervise marketing boards.

Whatever the commission directors thought of that advice and did remains a secret.

Despite ample evidence in documents filed in connection with the Sweda lawsuit and its filings with the Appeal Tribunal that major changes in the egg-grading business are in urgent need of redress, the commission, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Appeal Tribunal and the egg board have allowed the duopoly to sail along untouched.

The real losers are consumers. The egg board laughs all the way to the bank with inflated levies from eggs that fail to measure up to Grade A standards, the egg graders and farmers join in the laughter because they, too, gain financially.

And all of that I have documented many times over by asking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for the results of random sample checks of Grade A eggs. They consistently show that often more than five per cent of the eggs Graded A fail to meet the regulatory standards, particularly for lack of cracks.

Will things change?

Sweda is trying, but those in charge are censoring, covering up and doing little or nothing.