Maple Leaf Forever (2): Plucked and burned; hogging the ‘competition’

Maple Leaf Foods is closing facilities allegedly considered too old and inefficient in favour of a more modern ‘new business model’ designed to capitalize on the growing market for meat products. Yet this ‘business model,’ writes TONY SEED, is a central part of the problem facing the small farmer and the Canadian people.

December 18, 2006. Grain farmers demonstrate against the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board by the Harper Conservatives.

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.” [1]

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.” [2]

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.”


[1] Art Macklin, “Collective Bargaining for Wheat Farmers is in the WTO Gun Sights After the CWB,” 19 April 2006.

[2] Darrin Qualman and Fred Tait, The Farm Crisis, Bigger Farms and the Myths of ‘Competition’ and ‘Efficiency’, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2004

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

“Stand with Prairie Farmers! Support the fight to save the Canadian Wheat Board!,” TML Daily, February 20, 2007 – No. 27

“Prairie grain farmers defend the Canadian Wheat Board – Vote Option One in the Barley plebiscite!,” TML Daily, February 19, 2007 – No. 26

Beyond Factory Farming

Original source: Shunpiking Online, May/June 2007


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