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.
There’s a phrase in the English language that I often use. When my colleagues have stated it to me, it often makes me feel appropriately guilty and sometimes it makes me feel appropriately foolish. The phrase is “it’s your own damn fault”. I use this phrase when business associates, friends and family complain about certain situations affecting life. The complaints can be personal, political, social, or financial but from an objective perspective it’s very easy to look at these complaints and assign the accountability phrase of “well, it’s your own damn fault”. I’ve often commented that I (or any other writer) could write a weekly column entitled “It’s your own damn fault”. There’s a never-ending supply of actions that could have that headline attached to it.
Now that Canada has received and accepted the invitation to the Trans Pacific Trade Talks, the likelihood of hearing that phrase (or some similar phrase) will increase. I don’t pretend to know the dairy industry or the chicken industry, but I am very familiar with the egg industry and EFO (Egg Farmers of Ontario). The Board and management of this organization have been taking actions that make supply management (and its secret operations) look like a very poor system for consumers. The Board’s actions don’t try to make the system more efficient, more transparent or even better at all – except of course for those folks who benefit monetarily from the system.
The actions being taken by EFO are an attempt to keep the system in place and keep the lucrative revenue stream to the producers and management of the Board. Those folks aren’t crazy – they’ve got a sweet thing going. Right now, all’s quiet on the egg industry lawsuit front but confidential mediation and/or backdoor negotiation is likely underway to keep all the details quiet. What happens if all that ‘protected’ data gets out to the media during these trade talks? Will all that attention give the government yet another reason to ‘alter’ the supply management system? At the end of the trade negotiations, if the tariffs are reduced or eliminated, if the supply management is changed in any way, it will be my voice, along with many, many others that can be heard saying to EFO, “It’s your own damn fault”. And the sad part is that preparing for the changes or making the system better prior to these trade talks could have and should have been done but the revenues were just too good to want to change the system. The system is just too comfortable and too protected. Welcome to the trade talks – and reality. Hope EFO is ready for the competition.
Though I didn’t attend the 2012 Annual General Meeting of the EFO, I did manage to take a peek at the 2011 annual report and financial statements that were handed out there. Since the numbers contained in that document are as vague and disguised as a politician’s pre-election speech and absent of any 2012 budget figures, I asked an EFO attendee if any budget information was made available to the Ontario egg producers. The reply was a definite and resounding “No”. I thought the response was just a joke. Wrong. How could that be? The two hundred plus egg producers of Ontario have given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who have landed the EFO smack dab in the middle of a multi-million dollar law suit. Given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who provide only general information, when convenient and keep all details of the egg industry business behind closed doors. Given a blank cheque to a group of individuals who are supposed to be ‘volunteers’ but wait! That same group took home over $700,000 in ‘per diem payments and expenses’. By the way, wouldn’t those payments be considered taxable benefits by the CRA? Were T4’s given? I think all of us know the answer to that. Not bad for volunteers, eh?
Since the past chair of the EFO likes to use ‘old sayings’, here’s one that definitely applies to Ontario egg producers after this lack of action at the annual meeting: “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Giving an open and ‘sky-less’ budget to the current EFO leadership team is completely incredible. Where is the Chief Financial Officer, giving advice to the producers, telling the producers that it is a wise and necessary action to complete and approve a budget for the upcoming year’s revenues and expenses? An action that promotes accountability. Wait. What am I thinking? Isn’t the Chief Financial Officer or in this case, the secretary-treasurer of the Board, Harry Pelissero? Is it wise for the keeper of the cash to be the same person that makes the decisions on how much cash to spend? Why would Harry advise the producers to take a wise and proactive step to make HIM more accountable? He’s just made it easier to avoid accountability for his actions.
What are the egg producers of Ontario thinking? Not thinking with their brains obviously! I didn’t know the Board of Directors and the management team of EFO could have the same effect on the Ontario egg producers as a gorgeous woman has on a virile heterosexual man. I can’t imagine that Harry is dressing that provocatively these days! These producers are simply making it so easy for supply management opponents to make a case for the dissolution and/or major changes to the supply management system.
In Jim Romahn’s March 23/2012 blog post, Mr. Romahn describes recent actions being taken by Norman Bourdeau, the whistleblower in the egg industry lawsuits. Mr. Bourdeau is accusing L.H. Gray of essentially not following the rules. Are there consequences for not following the rules? There are consequences in my household when rules are broken. My long-suffering kids can attest to that but from Mr. Bourdeau’s point of view it appears that there haven’t been any consequences to the alleged rule-breaking behaviours of L.H. Gray and others involved in the egg industry lawsuit.
So let’s apply this ‘rule-following’ exercise to the egg producers themselves. When Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) wanted egg producers to implement more stringent barn sanitation methods, now known as HAACP, EFO sent all producers a letter outlining what new protocols were expected. At this point, the ‘rules’ were voluntary and therefore most producers took the approach of ‘it ain’t broke, don’t need fixin’ approach and changed nothing. It wasn’t until EFO made HAACP mandatory and tacked on a quota reduction (can you hear those $ signs?) before egg producers ‘willingly’ conformed to the new HAACP rules. So until there was a monetary consequence, nothing changed. A similar pattern of behaviour occurred when EFO suggested that cage density for the birds be decreased – nothing happened until a monetary consequence was applied to the lack of action.
What I’m trying to say is that unless egg producers (and in general, most humans) are going to suffer a monetary consequence, behaviours won’t change. The same holds true for businesses and organizations like Gray and EFO. They’re going to continue to behave and, in some cases, get away with what could be illegal or unethical behaviour, until a monetary consequence forces them to do otherwise. Society has come to expect dishonest and unethical behaviour in our business and political leaders. A study during the most recent provincial election showed that the vast majority of voters expected the political candidates to lie. It has now become the voter’s responsibility to determine which candidate is lying the least.
The same can be said for the judge’s job in the egg lawsuits. The judge has to determine which side is lying the least and apply a monetary consequence to stop this behaviour. It should have been stopped years ago but egos got in the way and a proposed solution was discarded without proper consideration.
A consequence for this ‘rule-breaking’ should be implemented immediately. It’s up to the egg producers to take that action.
As I get older, it becomes easier for me to tell the truth, let the chips fall where they may and suffer the consequences if I’ve broken the rules. At the same time, as I age, it’s imperative that I tell the truth because my memory is lacking and I’d forget what I had said if it weren’t the truth! But the egg industry lawsuits are still a long way from being over, however I’m certain that many of the accusations are true and I hope the monetary consequences are enough to change behaviours (and maybe a few faces?) but realistically human beings are going to continue to break the rules as long as there are no consequences for breaking them.