A recently announced Health Canada document entitled, ‘Health Canada Guidance on Reducing the Risk of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs Produced in Canada’ is causing quite a stir in my neck of the woods. I checked out the document – actually read it in its entirety – over 20 pages. As a former egg producer and layer quota holder, the guidelines and recommendations included in the document weren’t new to me. In fact, it seemed to me that all of these guidelines were already being implemented and enforced. But then that was my perception. So imagine my surprise when a friend from within the egg industry tells me that this ‘new’ document from Health Canada is set to shut down many of the small local egg producers that have 100 or 500 birds – those without quota. I read the document again and couldn’t see why this document was being seen as a business-breaker for these small producers. I also read Jim Romahn’s blog posting in October (http://agri007.blogspot.ca/2013/10/small-flocks-exempt-from-egg-guidelines.html) where he had reported on this Health Canada document and stated that small producers are exempt from these guidelines. So I asked the million dollar question of my egg industry friend, “Who is telling you and these small egg producers that they are going to have to stop taking their eggs and having them washed and graded by a licensed, certified and regulated egg grading station?” Imagine my surprise – or really my lack of surprise! – when I’m told that it’s Egg Farmers of Ontario that is the source of this business-breaking news.
I followed up my investigation into the matter with a telephone call to the Guelph office of Health Canada and spoke to a representative there. I explained to him that this document was causing some concern for these small producers and a couple of the small local grading stations. He assured me that the intent of this document was not to put any small producers out of business. In fact he went on to give me a brief history of the document and stated that many, if not all of the suggestions for implementations were already addressed in current HAACP protocols. When I asked if this document would stop or prevent these small producers from taking their eggs to a local grading station for washing, grading and marketing, he promptly said ‘no’. He even suggested that EFO does not have the authority to stop any egg producer from taking their eggs to a licensed/regulated egg grading station. He also agreed with me when I said that it appeared to me that having these small producers pay a licensed, certified, and CFIA regulated grading station to wash and grade their eggs is a far better and safer solution than allowing the same producers to sell unwashed, ungraded eggs from their farm gate.
After my discussion with my egg industry friend, a small egg producer or two and the Health Canada representative, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem comes with Egg Farmers of Ontario representatives interpreting these ‘guidelines’ (note that these are ‘guidelines’ – not regulations) in a manner different from their intended purpose. Using this interpretation to ‘bully’ these small producers out of business is exactly what EFO wants. Harry Pelissero and his ‘Egg Police’ are once again pushing producers around, taking authority that is not theirs and causing many hard-working, well-intentioned small non-quota holding egg producers a great deal of anxiety and fear. I’m certainly not surprised – but shame on them. And who governs Egg Farmers of Ontario again? It doesn’t matter. Nothing is likely to change.
According to a blog post by Jim Romahn (http://agri007.blogspot.com/2013/06/court-documents-detail-egg-deficiencies.html), Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reports demonstrate that the statements made by Norman Bourdeau about cracks being packed into retail Grade A egg cartons, are true. Attempts to keep this evidence hidden have been going on for years and now the ‘yolk’ is on L. H. Gray/Gray Egg Farms. The consequences for this are yet to be determined, but let’s hope there are some consequences. Especially since Gray, through his legal representative, has been protesting and denying this practice vehemently since this whole saga began.
Gray isn’t the only party who said the equivalent of “but I didn’t inhale”. Burnbrae Eggs and the Egg Farmers of Ontario also took that position. So is Mr. Bourdeau correct about them too? I had hoped that Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission would have at least checked into EFO as they are the supervising body for EFO. Literally after years of repeated requests, Farm Products is finally (and probably reluctantly) ‘investigating’ EFO – but it’s just their transparency that is being questioned. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been hollering about EFO’s lack of transparency for years so I’m thankful that Farm Products is finally doing something – or at least appear to be doing something. But this goes beyond transparency and that should be evident to all parties involved – egg producers, graders, Farm Products, CFIA and the Ministry of Agriculture. If only the majority of consumers understood the egg industry and supply management, this would have been investigated long ago.
It appears that Mr. Bourdeau is not Chicken Little stating that the sky is falling. The question is how many foxes are there in this tale?
I saw the agricultural heavens open and heard the chicken angels clucking a chorus of “Hallelujah Bock Bock!” when I was informed the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is going to investigate the operations of EFO. Will miracles never cease? Maybe Geri Kamenz will earn his six-figure salary when checking out Harry Pelissero and the boys and girls of the EFO Board of Directors – both past and present hopefully.
So does this mean that there was merit in those “unbelievable” emails between egg-gradier L.H. Gray and Son and EFO? (Remember those emails? Check them out here: http://agri007.blogspot.ca/2012/12/heres-scoop_7234.html). Is the EFO Board of Directors still standing behind its general manager and its policies and procedures? At the end of the investigation, how far behind the general manager will the Board be standing? I imagine there could be quite a distance of separation once the chicken poo starts to hit the fan. Maybe all those documents in the egg industry lawsuit are real and indicate collusion and numerous other problems with EFO? Or does it mean that finally, finally, finally somebody is listening and taking steps to make EFO accountable? In case it would help EFO, I would be willing to keep minutes of their meetings. Sure hope Harry calls soon.
Jim Romahn thinks Harry Pelissero and the Egg Farmers of Ontario are in a hurry to start a new process for quota sales and purchases (April 23, 2013 post – http://agri007.blogspot.ca). Seems Harry and the Board is in a hurry to spend the egg producer’s money too. Must be burning a hole in their pocket or there’s an awful lot of women on that Board? This time it is $1 million towards clinical drug trials for an antidepressant. Technically the expenditure doesn’t even fall into the EFO mandate or mission since the trials are slated to use fertilized eggs – which aren’t a part of EFO’s oversight.
I would bet that the decision to fund these trials didn’t even warrant much of an explanation to the producers. My guess is that the producers were merely told that this is what’s happening. Got questions about it? Too bad. Did anyone ask about liability? Sure hope EFO can’t be associated with future lawsuits from the use of this antidepressant, if and/or when it’s approved for use. But did anyone even ask? Doubt it. Check out a recent Maclean’s article if you think it can’t happen. (http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/04/20/theres-a-pill-for-that/). How about getting an outside, independent opinion about the trials? Was that considered? Who would know, since minutes aren’t available?
And where did this $1 million dollars come from? It came from the pockets of the producers. How’d that feel producers? Does the phrase ‘lay there and love it’ mean anything to you? Maybe the egg producers are all wealthy enough that $1 million is just a drop in the bucket for them?
Is the Farm Products Commission watching this unfold? Is this what EFO was set up to do? I don’t think so.
The egg industry wars have fired up again! Yee-haw! I’ve been getting a little bored lately – so thanks to Jim Romahn’s blog post, “Here’s the scoop” (http://agri007.blogspot.ca/2012/12/heres-scoop_7234.html) for lifting my Christmas spirits once again! That blog post is definitely a lengthy one but anyone who wants to know what Gray is being accused of can certainly become informed – complete with email quotes. Considering those quotes, it makes me wonder how in the world Bill Gray, L.H. Gray staff and Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), specifically EFO General Manager, Harry Pelissero, can claim that they have done nothing wrong. Really? I’m not buyin’ it. And if this information isn’t true and damaging, why does the Gray lawyer want it kept secret? Is the EFO Board of Directors still ready to support their manager and staff in light of this information? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck? That’s right.
I also caught wind of the new policy that’s being implemented at EFO, regarding quota increases. For those folks who don’t understand how it used to work, when the supply of eggs in Ontario needed to be increased because Harry and his Board deemed it necessary, quota was given (yes, I said GIVEN!!) to already existing egg producers. So let’s see how that worked – so for an egg producer who had 10,000 chickens already (which is a small flock in Ontario) and a 1% increase was GIVEN, that egg producer would be GIVEN the right to house an additional 100 chickens but if they didn’t have room for those birds because their barn was full, they got to SELL that GIFT of birds. In this case, to the tune of $250/bird for a total GIFT of $25,000. Well Merry Christmas Egg Producers!
Now the process involves leasing out the increased quota which equates to added revenue to EFO rather than to the individual producers. So why the policy change now? Trans Pacific Trade Talks making them a little nervous? Possibly? Needing a bit more revenue to fund those lawsuits that Harry says aren’t costing EFO anything? Definitely. One will never know the real reason unless it is ‘leaked’ by someone in-the-know as EFO isn’t accountable to anyone – even their own producers. Maybe the lawsuits or the trade talks will change that. Here’s hoping!