October 3, 2012 - No. 124
of Monopoly Right for Canadian Food Supply
• Governments Must Defend Public Right,
Not Monopoly Right!
- Peggy Morton
• Canada Needs Human-Centred
Arrangements for Food Safety - Kyda Maraam
• Crisis in the Beef Industry
Together, Let Us Defend the
Rights of All!
• Alberta Government Sacrifices Health
and Safety of Farm Workers to Private Interests
- Peggy Askin
• Join the Campaign "Safety NOW for
Alberta Agricultural Workers"
Fight of Lilydale Workers for
Consequences of Monopoly Right for
Canadian Food Supply
Governments Must Defend Public Right,
Not Monopoly Right!
The closure of the XL meat-packing plant in
Brooks, Alberta as a result of Escherichia coli (E.
coli) contamination is bringing to the fore the dangerous
consequences of the stranglehold of monopolies like XL and Cargill on
food safety and the health of Canadians, the meat-packing workers
and the farmers who raise beef cattle.
Today, two monopolies, Cargill Foods and XL
Packers (Nilsson Brothers), slaughter 90 per cent of Canada's cattle.
Alberta, more than 40 per cent of Canada's cattle is raised and more
than 60 per
cent of Canada's cattle is slaughtered. XL Lakeside in Brooks and
Cargill Meat Solutions in High River together process more than 90 per
cent of cattle in the province. Lakeside Packers, owned by
the giant U.S. corporation Tyson Foods, was sold to XL Foods owned by
Alberta based Nilsson Brothers in 2009. Lakeside XL Foods Inc. is the
largest beef processing facility in Canada and employs more that 2,200
workers. It processes more than
4,800 head of cattle a day. The High River plant is owned by the
multi-billion dollar U.S.-based Cargill Inc. The National Farmers Union
points out that in 1978 there were 17 medium-sized federally inspected
beef packing plants in Alberta. Now there are two: Nillson Bros. and
Cargill. This concentration of their
monopoly position has been encouraged by the Alberta government through
handouts and grants to expand their operations.
Nillson Bros. owns an extensive
vertically-integrated livestock operation. As well as the Lakeside
plant, this includes cattle ranches and feedlots in Alberta,
Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Nillson also operates the largest cattle
auction mart in Canada, buying cattle not only from western Canada but
Canada and the U.S. It engages in livestock commodity trading, and
livestock financing, farm and ranch insurance.
The power of these monopolies can be
seen in the fact that it took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
(CFIA) almost a month from the initial discovery of contaminated meat
to close the plant. The recall is still growing, meaning product
has been on sale for weeks that should have immediately
been recalled. Despite the obvious failure of the government to uphold
its social responsibilities which amounts to criminal negligence, the
federal Agriculture Minister continues to tell Parliament and Canadians
that everything is just fine and the system is operating as it should.
This begs the question of what kind of interference and use of its
prerogative powers the Harper dictatorship has exercised. In addition,
it has slashed the CFIA's staff, restricting the job the CFIA can
do. Right before everyone's eyes
Canadians can see the consequences of such power in the hands
of the very monopolies like Cargill which the Harper government has
served by destroying the Canadian
It also raises the question of what facts XL has
hidden from the CFIA. The arrogance of this monopoly lies in the fact
that governments permit them to act with impunity. Like a TV show with
a mafia boss who has the mayor, the chief prosecutor, the Chief of
Police and the jury on his payroll, it is of no use to appeal to the
mayor, the chief prosecutor, the Chief of Police or the judge for
relief. It is up to Canadians to deprive the monopolies of their power
to exercise control over the lives of the workers and beef producers.
For her part, Alberta Premier Alison Redford
meekly requested XL to cooperate with the CFIA, a request that makes it
pretty clear that this is exactly what XL has not been doing.
The concentration of ownership and control of the
packing plants and increasingly of the cattle as well by the packing
giants is in contradiction with good environmental practices and a safe
food supply. The monopolies' goal is to transfer wealth from farmers to
themselves, to siphon off as much added-value
as they can from farm production and to eventually take over all
facets of agriculture, turning former farmers into chattel labour.
Workers at Lakeside XL in Brooks are represented
by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401. They
established their union in 2005 after a militant strike. One of the
serious problems they face is the line speed up, especially since they
work short-handed. The fact that too
many carcasses are being processed too fast was an issue in
the 2011 negotiations and the situation has not improved. "It was only
a matter of time," UFCW negotiator Tom Hesse told the Calgary Herald.
"You can't do that much work in that short a period of time without
worker and public safety being
The increasing concentration of the meat packing
industry in the hands of these monopolies is threatening the very
existence of the farmers and the livelihood of the workers. Both the
Canadian government and provincial governments such as the Alberta
government have actively contributed to this anti-Canadian
sellout of the industry at the expense of the rights of beef farmers,
workers in packing plants and of corporate feed lots, their communities
and the Canadian people.
The sale of meat contaminated with E.
coli and resulting serious illness show the need for workers to
take up their own nation-building project so as to vest sovereignty in
the people. Their nation-building project puts the human factor/social
consciousness at the centre. Once that is in control of the
decision-making in the country, food security
and self-sufficiency, food safety, a thriving agricultural sector, the
rights and dignity of the workers and good environmental practices can
be enforced. The monopolies which have usurped the public authority
block the human
consciousness. Farmers and workers
are fully capable of solving these problems and ensuring a safe and
healthy food supply, good environmental practices, a good livelihood
farmers, and the rights and dignity of the workers. What is lacking is
the political power in their hands and this is the challenge facing
workers and their allies today.
1. For more information on the major
changes to Canada's food safety system enacted by the Harper
dictatorship, see "Food Safety Compromised by Cuts and Harmonized
Regulations," TML Daily, June 13, 2012 - No. 88.
Canada Needs Human-Centred
Arrangements for Food Safety
At this time in Alberta, nine people have been
confirmed to be infected with Escherichia coli
(E. coli) O157:H7 from contaminated beef products processed at the XL
Foods Lakeside plant near Brooks, Alberta. Of course, this reminds one
of the Listeria outbreak in
2008, when Maple Leaf Foods
was formally investigated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
and subsequently had its Toronto plant shut down for re-evaluation of
safety procedures. This meant that not only were those who succumbed to
listeriosis affected by the outbreak, but also the workers at the
Faced with intense public scrutiny and anger, the
Harper government commissioned Sheila Weatherill, former CEO of Capital
Health (Edmonton Region) to explore the contributing factors to the Listeria
outbreak and to make recommendations on how to avoid a similar outbreak
in the future. The
Weatherill report made 57 recommendations, mainly regarding the CFIA.
Facing widespread public outrage, the Harper government scrambled to
implement parts of the Weatherill report, and to appear to be taking
action in the public interest. It increased funding to the CFIA for a
two-year period only. The CFIA was then hit
in 2012 by the Harper dictatorship's assault on public services and the
workers who provide them. The CFIA's total staff number actually
decreased by 253 workers compared to 2011 numbers, and 57 of those cut
are inspection staff.
In 2010, Canada ranked 4th overall out of 17
Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development countries when
compared for Food Safety Performance. However,
Canada scored a poor 15th overall in the category of Traceability and
Management. Many have criticized the CFIA for making a late response to
the E. coli contamination, but this misses the
point. It is the Harper government which must be held accountable for
withdrawing funding from the department that is directly responsible
for inspecting foods and managing possible food-related crises, like
the one heavily impacting Albertans and
Canadians right now. This indicates that it is the interests of the
monopolies which are being served, not the public good. And Canadians
want to know whether inspectors and scientists in the CFIA were
to carry out their responsibilities or, as has become the norm,
they experienced interference and obstruction from
the Harper government.
The CFIA is currently drafting an Improved Food
Inspection Model. This addresses the reality that changes in the food
have resulted in the industry using third-party verification. Provided
the third-party meets certain requirements, the CFIA may consider these
verifications sufficient. All this is in the same
vein as the Harper government's newest project called Beyond the Border
(BtB), started in September. BtB is another chapter in the
story of Canadian and American economic integration. It will operate
for one year with a narrow scope. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Food and Safety Inspection
Agency and the CFIA will consider alternative document review protocols
as valid at the border, meaning that American inspected fresh meat
products can enter and leave both countries, provided one body has
claimed to have inspected them. Glaring conflicts of interest are
conceivable and have already been manifest.
The current E. coli contamination was detected at the
U.S. border, meaning that the reduced number of inspectors could have
in detection of a pathogen further down the supply chain. Canadian
food security and sovereignty are further at risk.
At this time, XL is one of a handful of major
meat-processing facilities, an industry worth more than $16 billion and
employing more than 40,000 people, with a large number of workers in
areas of Canada. In Brooks, Alberta, about 2,200 workers have been
suffering intermittent work schedules and now no work at
all because XL Foods is without a market and, hence, workers are
jobs. Obviously, a suspension of XL Foods' license at Establishment 38
(the Brooks plant) is necessary. XL is fully responsible for this
situation while the Harper government has contributed through its
anti-social cuts to public services. Local
401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers which represents the
been warning that the speed of production is unsafe, but the workers
are deprived of decision-making power.
The Lakeside XL plant is the main employer in
Brooks and other work will be almost impossible to find. Further,
hundreds of temporary foreign workers cannot just go and
find another job. Clearly in this situation, XL should be required to
continue paying the workers. This could be done by fining
XL and using the funds to compensate the workers. XL should also be
forced to reduce the line speed to a safe level, determined through
good faith negotiations with the workers.
Crisis in the Beef Industry
Self-sufficiency in food is an important aspect of
national sovereignty but this is of no interest to private
agri-business. The stranglehold of these agribusiness oligopolies is
threatening the entire beef industry in Canada and creating a situation
where Canada may soon be a net importer of beef. The closure of the XL
plant in Brooks, Alberta as a result of contamination by Escherichia
coli (E. coli) is also raising deep concern that the U.S. will
as a pretext to once again close the border, threatening the whole beef
industry which has never recovered from the temporary closure of the
to Canadian beef following the discovery that one Canadian
cow was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Canada's
net trade balance in beef with the U.S. has declined from $1.4 billion
in 2002 before the BSE crisis.
The Canadian beef industry generates more than $6
billion in farm gate sales, contributes more than $26 billion to the
Canadian economy, and represents 15 per cent of the value of
agricultural production. Yet this important sector
crisis. Canada's cow herd has declined by one million head or 20 per
2005. In 2005, 87 per cent of Canada's beef market was supplied
domestically but by 2011 that fell to 75 per cent.
In 2010, exports accounted for about 65 per cent
of slaughter volume, and 50 per cent of total production. Close to 85
per cent of Canada's beef and cattle export trade is with the U.S. In
2002, prior to the BSE crisis, Canada's beef trade balance with the
U.S. was nearly $1.4 billion. In 2011, Canada had a net
trade balance in beef of $42 million with the U.S. (excluding beef
offal, livers and tongues). But this only reveals a part of what is
taking place. Increasingly, Canada is exporting live slaughter and
feeder cattle to the U.S. and then importing boxed beef back from the
U.S. The U.S. also exports value-added product
from Canadian cattle to other countries. This is reflected in the fact
that the unit value of Canada's exports to the U.S. is only about 60
per cent of the value of U.S. imports to Canada.
The price for beef exported to the U.S. has also
been falling, In 2005, the average value of beef exports to the U.S.
$4.17 per kg and in 2010 it was $3.33.
The crisis in the beef industry puts the lie to
the claim that Canada's road to prosperity lies in exporting raw
resources. There is an alternative -- the development of a self-reliant
economy based on meeting the needs of Canadians and trade for mutual
1. Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
Canada's Beef Food System. Available at: http://www.capi-icpa.ca/pdfs/2012/CAPI_Beef-Food-System_2012.pdf
Together, Let Us Defend the Rights of All!
Alberta Government Sacrifices Health and Safety of Farm
Workers to Private Interests
Opposition is growing in Alberta to the Redford
government's refusal to take up its social responsibility to provide
the right to safe and healthy conditions for farm workers with a
guarantee. Alberta is the only province where farm workers are excluded
from occupational health and safety laws. Farm workers
are also exempt from legislation governing hours of work, overtime,
statutory holidays, vacation pay, and the right to refuse unsafe work.
Unless their employer voluntarily covers them under the Workers'
Compensation Board, they receive no compensation for workplace
injuries. All farm
workers are exempted, including those who work on large corporate
operations and large feedlots. As is the case across the country,
migrant farm workers in Alberta are amongst the most vulnerable.
Unions, opposition political parties, such as the
NDP and the Liberals, provincial judges, the Alberta Centre for Injury
Control and Research Council, and many other social forces and farm
workers themselves are demanding that the government act. The Premier
herself promised to make changes to workplace
legislation to include paid farm workers during the PC leadership
campaign, stating, "We have to have farm workers protected." It is
one year since that promise and four years since the recommendations
of Justice Peter B. Barley, who conducted a Public Fatality Inquiry
the death of farm worker Kevan Chandler.
Justice Barley issued his report in 2008.
His main recommendations were:
1. Paid farm workers should be covered under the Alberta
2000 Ch. 0-2,
with the same exemption for family members and other non-paid workers
that apply to non-farm employers.
2. Stricter safety measures be put in place to
protect farm workers, e.g., the use of written hazard assessment forms
when an activity known to be dangerous is undertaken.
3. The Department of Agriculture should set up
training programs to address ways to minimize the risk of hazardous
At that time the inquiry heard from a
representative of Alberta Employment and Immigration who stated that
farming operations were exempt from the Occupational Health
and Safety Act (OHSA) because this was
what the employers wanted. In light of this, what are farm workers and
their allies to make of Alison Redford's statement that: "I've made a
commitment. What we're going to do is continue to do that work to
ensure that we get everyone's input, and when the time is right, we'll
do it." Most likely it means she is asking corporations such as Nilsson
Brothers and Cargill if they would
like workers in their feedlots and other operations to have WCB
coverage and to be covered under the AOHSA?
The declaration that she will act "when the time
is right" underlines the contempt of a government in the service of the
for the rights of farm workers, including their right to live. Sixteen
people were killed working on farms in Alberta in 2011 and 22 in 2010.
According to recently released figures, 355 Albertans
have been killed and 678 seriously injured in farm accidents over the
last thirty years. The harvest of death on farms in Alberta and Canada
must be dealt with as an urgent matter, whether the loss of life and
the often debilitating injuries take place on small farms or corporate
farms. It is the responsibility of government
to provide the right to health and safety with a guarantee for all
members of the society. "When the time is right" means the same
life-threatening status quo for farm workers.
In the face of this terrible harvest of death, the
government is actively trying to bury the link between the lack of
health and safety regulations for farm workers and the horrendous level
of farm workers' deaths. Information was released via a government
website this August revealing that the province had decided to stop
reporting the number and nature
of farm deaths. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the
frequency and nature of the incidents, not a cover-up of Alberta's
deplorable lack of workplace protection for farm workers.
The director of the Alberta Centre for Injury
Control and Research has stated that his group's advice to a
government-appointed committee that the province impose health and
safety regulations on farms, like every other jurisdiction in the
country, was ignored. "Our input was based on the science but it wasn't
listened to," University of Alberta epidemiologist Don Vaklander told
Herald. "These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom
haying operations are not different than businesses that are drilling
for oil or fixing your car." Not only does this show that this
government refuses to provide the legal protection
and enforcement needed to save lives and prevent injuries, it also
brings up the issue of "Who Decides?" and the need for Albertans and
Canadians to exercise control over all aspects of economic and
political life. It shows the necessity to build a political movement
that will give the people the means to replace this
arrogant, anti-worker, government and develop their own human-centred
1. Kevan Chandler was working on a
feedlot in High River, south of Calgary in June 2006 when he died. He
was cleaning out grain encrusted on the inside of a silo at feedlot
when the grain collapsed and smothered him.
Join the Campaign "Safety NOW for
Alberta Agricultural Workers"
The United Food and Commecial Workers' Union
(UFCW) is known for defending health and
safety particularly for migrant farm workers across the country. On
their national website, www.ufcw.ca they feature a section called
"Safety NOW for Alberta Agriculture Workers," which provides
the lack of protection for agricultural workers in Alberta
and encouraging people to send a message to Premier Alison Redford.
On September 26, 2012, UFCW released a video and spoke
with CBC Calgary about the conditions migrant farm workers are facing
in Alberta. The video was made in 2010 but just released to prevent
repercussions for the workers involved.
In the commentary accompanying the video, UFCW
representative Devin Yeager reported on the situation of 17 Guatemalan
migrant workers who lived in a cramped, mouldy three-bedroom home in a
southern Alberta farming community. The house had multiple bunk beds,
mattresses in the attic and carpets and open insulation with mould and
an unventilated bathroom. Housing is arranged by the large agricultural
operations that hire workers from Central and Latin America.
Yeager made the point in his commentary that, "It's not
an attack on all farmers that hire farm workers. [... O]ur focus is on
the large farms that are hiring massive amounts of workers and housing
them in barracks-style [accommodations] or ... housing them in cramped
spaces like this." Currently, the federal government requires a housing
inspection before a company hires temporary foreign workers but a
further point Yeager made was that there should be frequent follow-up
inspections and a limit on the number of workers living in one house.
More than 2,400 migrant workers harvested crops in
Alberta last year.
1. To send a message to Premier Redford, click here.
Support the Fight of Lilydale Workers for their Rights
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1118
the Lilydale poultry processing plant in Edmonton have been on strike
since August 27. They have shut down all production at the plant and
are standing strong after five weeks on the picket line defending their
rights and dignity. The main demands of
the workers are parity with the Calgary plant and an increase in
guaranteed hours. Workers are guaranteed only 30 hours a week in slow
periods and 36 hours during busy periods, and are demanding an increase
to 72 hours guaranteed over a 14-day period. Workers at the Edmonton
plant receive $1.28 an hour less
than those at the Calgary plant. Many of the workers have been there
for 20 to 30 years or more. Senior production workers are paid $17.50
an hour. As the workers pointed out, this in no way reflects the hard
work and difficult conditions or what they require to take care of
Lilydale is owned by Sofina Foods Inc., a
Canadian company which operates 11 manufacturing facilities in Canada
and one in the U.S., with more than 3,000 employees. This year alone it
taken over three companies: Janes Family Foods, Santa Maria Foods and
Fearmans Pork. In 2010 Sofina acquired
Lilydale, originally established as an Alberta farmers' cooperative.
Lilydale processes fresh, frozen and fully-cooked chicken and turkey
products as well as deli meats, sausages and turkey bacon.
Since Sofina took over the plant, it has cut the
number of workers and increased the intensity of the work. There are
now just over 200 workers at the plant, down from close to 400. The
plant now only processes turkeys and large fowl, which makes the work
even harder because of the greater weight. The speed
of the line has increased -- for example the tray pack line now moves
a speed of 40 trays per minute, an increase from 35. If the machine
breaks down or there are workers absent, the workers are expected to
work even faster so that there is no slowdown in the line speed. The
workers are determined not to allow
the company to grab an ever-increasing share of the wealth they produce
and to which the workers have a first claim by right.
Sofina refuses to even engage in good faith
bargaining to address the just demands of the workers. After the
workers rejected Sofina's "best and final offer," the company agreed to
meet on August 21. But when the union arrived for the meeting, the
company simply refused to meet with them. Since that time Sofina has
refused to meet and resume negotiations, leaving the workers no choice
but to withdraw their labour. The company responded to the strike
notice with a notice of lockout.
One month later on September 21, Sofina informed
the union that it's "best and final offer" presented on August 13
stands and that the company is willing to hear back from the union at
any time. Local 1118 representative John Ventura responded that this
was the first time the union had been so advised, as
the "final offer" clearly stated that in the event of a strike or
lockout the offer is revoked. This shows the utter refusal of the
company to recognize the just demands of the workers and engage in good
faith bargaining to resolve the strike.
Support the Lilydale workers by joining them on
the picket line! While there is no production at the Edmonton plant, it
is still shipping frozen product. The union will also be providing
information on which products are on the boycott list and calling on
people to boycott all products from the Edmonton plant.