‘Stop the nonsense’

Lawyer repeats request for investigation into egg board and discovers farm commission voted against it last year

 

By Patrick Meagher

 

OTTAWA — A multi-million dollar lawsuit against the two largest egg producers in Canada that charges they worked with the egg marketing board, the Egg Farmers of Ontario, to destroy competing egg producers and even put consumer health at risk, has just become a bigger can of worms.

A lawyer for one of the suing egg producers says that a high level public official withheld information from them in favour of the Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO).

Best Choice Eggs (a division of Sweda Farms, of Blackstock and owned by Svante Lind) launched its $15 million lawsuit almost three years ago against Burnbrae Farms, of Brockville, L.H. Gray & Son Ltd., of Strathroy, in Western Ontario, and the egg board, the EFO.

The ongoing case includes numerous charges of bribery, conspiracy, and fraud in a legal battle based on the argument that the two largest companies and the egg board set out to destroy competing egg producers and inflate profits. The lawsuit argues that the two largest companies deliberately put consumer health at risk by putting cracked and dirty eggs in cartons for retail sale. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In the latest development, Don Good, lawyer for Svante Lind, said that he had asked the Farm Products Marketing Commission for a public investigation into the operation of the EFO in February, 2011. Letters written by commission chairman Geri Kamenz, a Spencerville hog and crop farmer, noted that the commission was considering a public investigation and in an Aug. 7 letter to Good, Kamenz said that the commission would consider an investigation when it meets in late September. The problem is that the commission had already decided against a public investigation when it met in March, 2011, shortly after the request for an investigation more than a year ago and Good says that he was never told.

"To say that I am shocked would put it mildly," wrote Good in a strongly-worded letter to Kamenz last month. Good said that "the decision was kept secret" and he was led to believe for more than a year that his request was still under consideration.

At the same meeting more than a year ago, the commission also voted to ask the EFO to be more transparent by submitting written policies and procedures on specified operational matters.

Calling this move "utterly incredible," Good added: "To use an analogy, it would be like the police allowing suspected bank robbers to conduct the investigation into the bank robbery. Serious allegations were made against EFO and its senior staff. EFO however, seems to be in charge of the investigation."

Good also noted that e-mails between the Farm Products Marketing Commission and the EFO, which were obtained through an access to information request, show commission staff working very closely with the egg board "to protect EFO’s position in the allegations."

Good has asked Kamenz to restore trust in the commission by stopping all communication between the commission and the Egg Farmers of Ontario and its lawyers "until the serious conflict of interest issues are resolved" and to hold a public and transparent investigation into the egg board.

In an interview with Farmers Forum, Good said he is not calling for Kamenz to resign. "I’m not asking for his resignation," Good said. "I’ve known Geri for a long time. I’ve always considered him to be an honourable gentleman . . . But this nonsense has got to stop."

When contacted by Farmers Forum, Kamenz declined to comment, although he offered, "it’s a prickly situation."

When asked for his take on the decision to not investigate the egg board and withhold the information for more than a year, he replied, "No comment."

When asked if there will be an investigation into the egg board, he replied, "No comment."