Monthly Archives: April 2007
Maple Leaf Forever (1) : Maritime workers, farmers and communities to bear the burden of ‘restructuring’
Future of 380 workers from the Canard plant still remains uncertain as some may be forced to relocate and/or seek different types of work, while others destined for the Berwick plant will join workers who have lacked a union contract since 2005. News commentary by TONY SEED and ENA BOUTILIER
HALIFAX (5 April 2007, updated 1 May 2007) – HERE is an old, familiar story: workers, farmers, their families and communities are being asked to bear the burden of the striving of a large food multinational to maximize its record profits, and the government leaps forward, not to sit idly by, but to consciously participate in the placating of that monopoly. As old is the story is, it takes new form far too frequently, as it is doing so once again in Nova Scotia in the winter and spring of 2007. Continue reading
For your reference
What happened to Hub Meat Packers, the only major beef packer in the Maritimes, after its acquisition by Maple Leaf Foods? – TONY SEED Continue reading
Like lessons learned with eggs, we should know not to put all our chickens in one basket, or factory. Or even two. Nova Scotia’s commercial chicken farmers are about to pay the price for ignoring that advice. DIRK VAN LOON*
LIVERPOOL, NS (April 2007) – LIKE LESSONS LEARNED FROM EGGS, we should know not to put all our chickens in one basket, or factory. Or even two. Nova Scotia’s commercial chicken farmers are about to pay the price for ignoring that advice.
They are not alone paying the price for consolidation. In the half dozen years of this new century, Atlantic Canada’s farmers and partners in processing have taken one chilling bath after another beginning with the closure of Hub Meat Packers purchased by Maple Leaf Foods in 2000. Followed by Avon Foods of Berwick, NS, in 2004, Maple Leaf’s Shur-Gain mill in Port Williams in 2005, and the recently announced plan by Maple Leaf Foods to close its poultry processing plant in Canard, N.S. That’s not an all-inclusive list, just the major closures that come quickly to mind.
Rumors have been circulating for weeks that Larsen Packers, another company owned by Maple Leaf Foods, and the region’s principle hog packer and processor, will be closing, taking another 400 jobs out of Berwick.
The plight of pork producers, already in dire straits, was the catalyst for a rally in early January that drew about 400 farmers and their allies to the steps of the Nova Scotia legislature. There, speaker after speaker demanded immediate relief from the Tory government.
Ag Minister Brooke Taylor braved the storm of protest, stepping up to the microphone to remind the crowd of his government’s promises to farmers of late, like the announcement at the N.S. Federation of Agriculture annual meeting in December of millions in assistance come April.
“Now!” farmers shouted back. “We need help now!” Taylor, becoming visibly upset, closed his remarks, turned on his heel, and fled into Government House.
“Loss of poultry plant latest blow to farming,” read a headline in the 19 January Halifax Chronicle Herald. True, but it is not only devastating to farming or to the thousand (could be a low figure) men and women canning carrots or cutting meat directly affected. There are the truckers and brokers, communications and service people whose work shrinks or dies altogether with each “rationalization.” As a friend pointed out the other day, when communities lose a processing plant they lose tax base. Who picks up the shortfall? Every ratepayer. Red Green’s right, “We’re all in this together.”
All except for a researcher with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies who asked in another Chronicle Herald piece (16 January), “Should some pigs be more equal than others?” Ian Munro wondered why farmers should expect support when “grocery store chains do not demand support on the grounds of their role in national security.”
New Democrat MLA John MacDonell offered a possible explanation at the hog rally when he held up a pork roast he’d bought at Sobeys for $19.04, for which, at the current farm gate price, the farmer who grew the roast got $2.90; far less than the cost of production.
the system of control by a few agricultural behemoths must be broken in favour of local agriculture.
Government bailout so farmers can limp from one crisis to the next is not the answer. “In the long term,” wrote Ralph Surrette, frequent contributor to the Chronicle Herald, 20 January, “the system of control by a few agricultural behemoths must be broken in favour of local agriculture.”
Yes, but how?
Consolidation is killing rural Atlantic Canada. It goes farther than agriculture, however, and so far neither big industry nor government seems to care. The thinking seems to be that people will eat, and people will buy gas and tools and fertilizer no matter how far they have to travel to get these and other staples.
With few exceptions Atlantic Canada does not produce or consume enough of any commodity to warrant particular attention let alone special treatment by agri-business. A half-dozen mega hog farms out West could probably make up for any shortfall brought about by collapse of hog farming in Atlantic Canada. Dairy products? Farms milking thousands of head in the U.S. Southwest can flood our tiny market.
We are on our own, and must convince our citizens and governments of the importance of local production and consumption.
One trucker strike ought to do the trick.
*Dirk Van Loon is editor and publisher of the magazine Rural Delivery, based in Liverpool, NS, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
HALIFAX (April 5, 2007) – THE DEEPENING TROUBLES for the workers and the farmers in Nova Scotia’s agricultural sector come as the federal and provincial governments are actively aiding the quest of a few favoured private monopolies for global domination.
The Conservative “new” government and its agriculture minister and minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, Chuck Strahl are actively organizing to eliminate and dismantle nation-building agencies such as the Canadian Wheat Board and what is called “single desk selling” of wheat, durum and barley to all export markets and for domestic human consumption in favour of four or five large transnationals that control over 80 per cent of global trade. In Western Canada small and medium-sized farmers are waging an intense campaign against Strahl’s plan, and have scored an initial victory.
Strahl’s plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board would mean that the handful of multinationals that already control more than 70 per cent of the world grain trade will be truly unchallenged in their domination. For all intents and purposes, these companies would completely control the Canadian as well as world grain supply and distribution.
handful of multinationals control more than 70 per cent of the world grain trade
Grain companies in Canada that stand to make a handsome profit from the end of the CWB include: US-owned Cargill Ltd.; US-owned Louis Dreyfus Canada Ltd.; Rahr Malting Canada Ltd.; US-owned Agricore United – formerly Manitoba and Alberta Pools and United Grain Growers, with significant ownership by US-based Archer Daniels Midland) a company whose largest single shareholder is ADM [which owns 47 per cent of Canada’s flour milling capacity]; Saskatchewan Wheat Pool – no longer a farmer cooperative and reportedly controlled by a US-based corporation; and James Richardson International Limited.
In 1988, four farmer-owned co-ops handled the vast majority of western grain (the Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba Pools and United Grain Growers).
By 2002, three US-controlled private corporations, Agricore United, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and Cargill controlled 75 per cent of western grain-handling capacity.
The Conservative offensive against the Canadian Wheat Board serves the regime Washington is trying to impose on world food production and distribution.
According to Art Macklin, a two-term elected director the Canadian Wheat Board and past president of the Canadian National Farmers Union, “The US and EU want to remove that decision from Canadian farmers. At the WTO talks, their negotiators have been clear that they want an end to the single desk selling authority of organizations like the CWB. Organizations that, in trade lingo, are called State Trading Enterprises (STEs).
“Despite the fact that the CWB is farmer-controlled it is defined as an STE because it operates under the authority of an act of Parliament. That Act enables the CWB, on behalf of all 80,000 western Canadian grain farmers, to negotiate with buyers for the best achievable price for wheat, durum and barley. It also empowers the CWB to negotiate with railroads and other service providers for better service at a competitive cost.” 
The ‘single desk’
In hog production, the elimination of “single desk selling”, by the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta about seven years ago in the name of de-regulation paved the way for vertical integration and corporate consolidation of hog production.
the elimination of ‘single desk selling’ in the name of de-regulation paved the way for vertical integration and corporate consolidation of hog production
Until the latter-1990s, hog farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba sold their hogs through each province’s farmer-controlled marketing board. Farmers had the benefit of “single-desk selling”: packers that wanted to purchase hogs in that province had to buy from a single marketing board.
Single-desk selling gave farmers price transparency, equal access to the market, equal prices for products of equal value, and market power when dealing with packers.
According to the National Farmers Union, this is a system where a single marketing board marketed all hogs in a province on behalf of all producers and pays them equally for comparable hogs. Single-desk selling ensures that all sellers have equitable access to the market. It gave small- and medium-sized family farm producers market power when dealing with huge, vertically-integrated packers. And it ensured that all hogs are sold at open auctions, through public and transparent contracts, or through fair negotiations between relative equals – the single-desk seller and the large packer.
According to the web site, Beyond Factory Farming, “Single desk selling’ was the system whereby all hog farmers had equal access to the market, because everyone would sell their pigs to the central selling agency, which would in turn sell the hogs to the various packing plants. Now, packers can make their own contracts with large producers and buy hogs at a fixed price. The switch from single desk to contract selling reversed the market power – instead of the packer paying the daily market price for hogs and farmers having guaranteed market access, now hog farmers have limited market access and packers have a guaranteed supply.”
Hog and pork monopolization; a precedent
The elimination of the single desk system by the provincial governments followed on the heels of the direct take-over on a large scale of hog production and the expansion of large industrial hog farms or mega-barns. In 1999, Maple Leaf Foods, part of the McCain family empire and one Canada’s largest pork packers, bought Manitoba-based Landmark Group. Landmark Group included Landmark Feeds, the largest livestock feed company in western Canada, and Elite Swine which manages the production of one million hogs per year. This brought feed, production and processing under one vertically-organized monopoly.
provincial governments then forced the ‘independent’ and smaller hog producers to submit to monopoly pricing dictated by Maple Leaf Foods.
Through neo-liberal privatization, the provincial governments then forced the “independent” and smaller hog producers to submit to monopoly pricing dictated by Maple Leaf Foods. Today, those marketing boards are gone and one company, Maple Leaf Foods, owns 80 per cent of hog processing capacity in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “The deregulation policies of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments, coupled with corporate consolidation, have transformed farmers’ competitive landscape from one defined by a single-desk seller to one defined by a single-desk buyer.” 
Attack on the Canadian Wheat Board and sovereignty
The attack on the Canadian Wheat Board, a nation building agency that served the interests of the farmers, also constitutes an attack on sovereignty.
The principle under attack is the democratic right of citizens or an economic group to have legislation enacted that empowers them to organize effectively in the interests of the majority
Macklin adds: “If the Americans, Europeans and multinational grain companies get their way, new WTO rules will make it illegal for any group of farmers to organize and collectively bargain for export crops. This becomes an issue of national sovereignty. The principle under attack is the democratic right of citizens or an economic group to have legislation enacted that empowers them to organize effectively in the interests of the majority. To deny Canadian grain farmers this right is also to put at risk this right for farmers producing products under the supply management system. Trade unions, teachers unions, and many others could also be affected by this principle since they are empowered to bargain for their members by legislation under which a majority vote allows them to bargain for the whole group. A wide cross-section of Canadian society should be concerned by the WTO attack on the CWB because they could be the next victims if the principle is established.”
 Art Macklin, “Collective Bargaining for Wheat Farmers is in the WTO Gun Sights After the CWB,” 19 April 2006.
 Darrin Qualman and Fred Tait, The Farm Crisis, Bigger Farms and the Myths of ‘Competition’ and ‘Efficiency’, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2004 http://www.policy.ca/policy-directory/Detailed/682.html
On the Internet: For more information
TML Daily has recently published three editions with numerous informative articles:
“Barley plebiscite; fraudulent choice produces fraudulent Result / Government machinations to destroy Canadian Wheat Board,” TML Daily, April 2, 2007 – No. 53 http://www.cpcml.ca/Tmld2007/D37053.htm#1
“Stand with Prairie Farmers! Support the fight to save the Canadian Wheat Board!,” TML Daily, February 20, 2007 – No. 27 http://www.cpcml.ca/Tmld2007/D37027.htm#1
“Prairie grain farmers defend the Canadian Wheat Board – Vote Option One in the Barley plebiscite!,” TML Daily, February 19, 2007 – No. 26 http://www.cpcml.ca/Tmld2007/D37026.htm#1
Beyond Factory Farming http://www.beyondfactoryfarming.org
Original source: Shunpiking Online, May/June 2007
Some of the largest agri-business companies in the world dominate Canadian food production and distribution. TONY SEED Continue reading
For Canadian farm families and their net incomes, 2004 was the second-worst year in history. For agribusiness, it was the best year in history. Is there a link? This report by Canada’s National Farmers Union takes a detailed look at the profitability of the dominant agribusiness corporations. It follows the money. PDF 2005.Farm Crisis & Corporate Profits
Originally published on Shunpiking Online, May-June, 2007
While grocery store pork chop prices are up 39 per cent, farm gate prices are up only 2 per cent. Continue reading