I’m hearing SO many promises as the federal election date approaches. Promises for better health care, more pension money, better bank regulation and so on and so on. I’m also reading the Farm Products Marketing Act and interpreting what it promises to Ontarians. It promises to oversee the local boards, such as EFO and their activities and operations. I’m also reviewing the promises that EFO makes on their web site. Here’s a quote from there:
Our mandate is to provide consumers with a guaranteed supply of safe, high quality eggs at the most reasonable prices possible. This is accomplished through the efficient management of the production of eggs,research, product promotion and ongoing market activities.
So what happens when and if these promises are not kept? Politicians can be punished for broken promises by not electing them next election. But what about EFO and the Farm Products Marketing Act enforcers? What if one of the promises that EFO breaks involves the ‘safe, high quality egg’ supply? Can they be ‘un-elected’? Based on my research, I’m finding it difficult to determine who or what organization is responsible for the ‘safe, high quality egg’ supply – or lack thereof. The Farm Products Marketing Act seems to put that role on the Farm Products Marketing Commission but I can’t seem to get the Commission to tell me what I have to do to file a complaint. Seems like a simple question but even the Chairperson hasn’t been able to tell me. Sounds to me like there’s some accountability issues.
So if no one is accountable, what is the system doing for the consumer? Is the system really protecting the consumer or does the system protect the very lucrative revenue stream of the EFO and the very profitable revenue stream of egg producers? Is that what the supply-management agriculture system was designed to do? As I try to find answers to all of these questions, I read Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson. Mandel-Campbell explains that “in the world of supply management, farmers are not rewarded for conquering new markets. Their payoff comes from guarding their government-ceded monopoly.” With the existence of this monopoly, there is no reason or incentive for farmers to be efficient or to make an attempt to improve their production methods. They’ve got a guaranteed market and a guaranteed return on their investment – as long as supply management remains intact. But is supply-management in the best interest of the consumer? As a retired egg producer and now a consumer, I know that the consumer is not EFO’s or the Farm Products Marketing Commission’s primary concern. Protecting their jobs, their guaranteed market and with holding as much information as possible so that no producer or consumer can determine whether their so-called mandate is being met or not. At this point, EFO’s mandate is just a bunch of words that can only be defended if the numbers and decisions were analyzed properly. What is EFO afraid of? Let me (consumers) or others (industry people) that request the information have access to the information, especially if they’re truly doing their job. Is EFO a bunch of chickens?
After reading Jim Romahn’s article in the April 5, 2011 Ontario Farmer, I was pleased to learn about the award won for the public relation/marketing campaign that was the brainchild of Janet Hueglen Hartwick and her team. But the question that came to my mind was “Did it sell more eggs?” It’s wonderful that there are creative, experienced people working for EFO but there still needs to be accountability. In this instance there needs to be some kind of measurement of success, some type of cost/benefit analysis. Granted it’s difficult to measure the value of educating the consumer, but ultimately the business question that must be determined is did the campaign cause the consumer to eat more eggs? To make that determination, egg producers would have had to know how much the campaign cost. Based on previous annual meeting documentation availability, that number would definitely not have been provided by EFO staff. But at the same time, egg producers probably didn’t ask either, but a campaign like that prize-winner, certainly isn’t cheap. Again another example that EFO staff and Board can spend egg producer’s money in whatever manner they see fit. It’s not hard to spend that $70 million (revenue line from 2010 AGM financial statement) if no one questions spending decisions and/or asks for accountability.
Egg producers should be asking this: “Was there a better way to spend the money spent on the campaign (whatever that amount may be)?” Since one (and I mean me or anyone outside the EFO power group) doesn’t know what the cost is, maybe a wiser use of that money could have been to reduce the price of eggs to retailers and ensure that the retailers pass that reduction onto the consumer? Maybe sponsoring a huge Easter egg hunt in several cities? How many hunts could have been organized? Who knows – unless it is known what has been spent. A million dollars colours a heck of a lot of Easter eggs! Many potential uses for the money could be suggested here, but the big question remains – did the prize-winning campaign sell more eggs? My guess is that no one even determined that answer. And not to beat a dead horse but ….. if someone did determine the answer, it won’t be recorded anywhere – at least for producers to read. Unless of course the EFO power group wants them to know. It’s time for egg producers to get their heads out of the Easter egg basket and ask the EFO for an analysis of the benefits of their current and future marketing campaigns. And when the projected benefits aren’t met, hold someone accountable. And next time I hope Jim Romahn asks that question about measuring the success of the campaign.
In recent weeks, there’s been a good deal of information in the media about allegations of wrongdoing in the egg industry, including allegations directed at Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO). The Board of Directors for EFO continues to state that none of the allegations have been proven in court and that they intend to vigourously defend their position and their employees. This Board has been selected by egg producers in Ontario and based on the absence of any official action by egg producers that would demonstrate dissatisfaction; the Board can state that egg producers support this Board of Directors. That’s a good thing.
Especially good since this group of egg producers didn’t question the fact that the financial statement showed an increase of 40% in levy revenue (that means 40% more out of the producer’s pockets). I wish I was married to this group of egg producers. If I could ask for an extra 40% to spend on whatever I wanted, I’d certainly never ask for a divorce. Really gives a new meaning for laying there and loving it.
I don’t think the Board of Directors for EFO could have found a better partner, unless they advertised for one. Imagine a ‘personal’ ad that could be used to find a partner for the Board that behaves just like the current egg producers. It might read something like this:
Attractive, intelligent, controlling and physically-fit (self-assessed) Board of Directors seeks long-term relationship with attractive, middle-aged group that will be loyal, ignorant and remain quiet even when having their pockets picked. In exchange, Board will remain constant, will maintain current attractive physical appearance (once again, self-assessed) and perform any and all acts that the Board deems promotes Board’s self-interest. No action will be considered outlandish or too extreme. Non-smokers preferred.
The trusting egg producers continued with their loyal devotion at the recent annual general meeting. The Board was given a free hand to spend whatever they want and increase levies as they see fit. There was NO budget given for the 2011 operations. I thought that was one of the primary purposes of the AGM – to approve the actual numbers for last year’s operations and to approve the game plan with accompanying projected expenditures and revenues for 2011. But egg producers didn’t even question this. Didn’t really want to know what the game plan is for 2011. I would think that with the huge capital investment that these egg producers have made into the industry, they would at least want to know what the plan is for 2011. If I were a betting person, I’d be betting that legal fees are going to go up for 2011 – I’ll even give you odds on that one. Maybe it’s time to consider divorce – or at least separation. If a new personal ad is required for EFO or the Board, I would be happy to provide one.