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Agriculture

ICE Futures Canada prices mixed

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $5.40 higher $472.80; May ’15 $2.90 higher $466.00; July ’15 $2.60 higher $461.40; Nov ’15 $2.00 higher $450.40; Jan. ’16 $1.00 higher $452.30; March ’16 $0.50 higher $455.80; May ’16 uncha…

Saputo wants preference in EU cheese quotas

MONTREAL – Canada’s largest dairy processors are pressing the federal government to allocate to them the lion’s share of higher cheese import quotas from Europe under the new free trade deal with the European Union, Saputo chief executive Lino Saputo Jr. said Monday.

Those with a vested interest in the dairy industry, rather than just any business startup, should receive the largest allocations of the additional 17 million kilograms of product from Europe that will be allowed into Canada each year under the deal, Saputo said following a speech to the Canadian Club of Montreal.

“We’re saying that perhaps the incumbents, those that are part of the dairy industry, those that have import licences already, those that have a vested interest in the industry, should inherit those new licences,” he told reporters.

An association representing Canada’s dominant dairy processors — Saputo, Agropur and Parmalat — has been pressing its case with Canadian officials. But Saputo says there is little understanding of how the new quotas will be distributed.

Saputo backed rival Agropur’s call for federal action to prevent the domestic market from falling victim to potentially cheaper imports from Europe.

The Canadian producers fear they won’t be as competitive because European rivals receive generous government subsidies.

The new cheese imports will be in addition to more than 20 million kilograms of mainly specialty cheeses that are currently imported annually from Europe.

Saputo, Canada’s largest dairy processor, has the product variety and size to survive the increased imports, but its chief executive said he fears the increased competition could be especially difficult for the country’s small artisinale cheesemakers.

Meanwhile, he said the Montreal-based company (TSX:SAP) could return to Europe through an acquisition under the “right conditions.”

The company closed its operations in Britain and Germany in 2013 after seven years because it didn’t have the scale and product diversity to compete effectively.

Saputo said he wouldn’t describe returning to Europe as “a long shot,” but that the company’s top acquisition priorities are the United States, Latin America and Oceania.

He said Saputo’s entry into Australia with the purchase of that country’s fourth-largest dairy processor has made it “a more serious bidder” for acquisition opportunities in New Zealand, a dairy-producing country that exports 90 per cent of its output — mainly into the growing Asian market.

Hog grower’s lawyers object to mentions of Chinese ties

ROSE HILL, N.C. – Lawyers for the world’s largest pork producer say it is bad enough being told your product stinks, but it’s going too far to mention that a Chinese company is behind it.

WHO’S COMPLAINING?

More than 500 neighbours of industrial-scale hog operations across eastern North Carolina have filed 25 lawsuits since last summer. Attorneys contend the residents are forced to tolerate terrible smells and clouds of flies that have been unaddressed since the factory farms moved in during the 1990s.

WHO’S GETTING THE BLAME?

The outdated image of pigs wallowing in farmyard mud before being butchered into hams and hocks is largely the purview of food artisans and hobbyists. Now, the vast majority of pork products come from factory farms, pioneered by Murphy-Brown LLC a generation ago.

Murphy-Brown was bought in 2000 by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods. Smithfield was then purchased by WH Group in 2013 — the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese corporation.

CHINA’S PORK BELLIES

The WH Group buyout was motivated largely to provide the Communist-led country a steady supply of cheaper, untainted U.S.-grown meat.

“This transaction creates a terrific opportunity through growth in exports for U.S. hog farmers to expand production to meet the growing Chinese demand,” Smithfield Chief Executive Officer C. Larry Pope said at the time.

But the lawsuits contend Chinese demand for more North Carolina-sourced pork will only increase the nuisance for hog-farm neighbours.

SAY WHAT?

Lawyers for Murphy-Brown argue in court documents that litigation over the stink of industrial-scale growing operations should be scrubbed of references to “the Chinese government, Chinese corporations, and Chinese demand for and purchases of pork.”

The references are “scandalous and clearly designed to inflame the jury and the public while taking advantage of xenophobic biases in today’s political landscape,” the company’s lawyers said, adding the lawsuits are a “platform for negative publicity … that will harm Murphy-Brown’s reputation.”

The hog-grower’s lawyers also object to suggestions that the company is subject to influence from Beijing politicians.

CHINESE CONTROL?

The Smithfield Foods takeover was approved after a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal interagency group.

Dartmouth University management professor Matthew Slaughter said in 2013 that Shuanghui — as WH Group was called at the time — wasn’t like the state-owned companies commonly found in Communist economies. Slaughter said its shareholders included Goldman Sachs and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.

But West Virginia University management professor Usha Haley said at the same U.S. Senate committee hearing that Shuanghui’s decisions wouldn’t be entirely independent, noting pork is so central to the Chinese diet that Beijing controls domestic pork prices with the world’s only strategic stockpile of pork.

“The price of pigs is linked to China’s social and political stability: When pork prices rise, Beijing assumes that discontent will follow,” she wrote in prepared testimony.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

Mexico, Wal-Mart act to improve farmworkers’ lives

LOS ANGELES – The Mexican government has formed an alliance of produce industry groups that will work on enforcing wage laws and improving housing, schools and health care for labourers at export farms following a newspaper’s investigation of abuses at…

Pot legalization backers discuss next steps in California

SAN FRANCISCO – Marijuana legalization proponents are gathering in San Francisco this weekend to hear about efforts to add the nation’s most populous — and arguably most pot-infused — state to the four others where it is now legal for adults to buy and use the drug recreationally.

The International Cannabis Business Conference on Sunday and Monday is expected to draw about 1,000 investors, entrepreneurs and activists from California and elsewhere for an overview of the legalization landscape.

Advocacy groups are now drafting a 2016 ballot initiative that could transform California from a place where only medical marijuana is legal to a global centre of state-approved recreational weed.

The measure’s passage might seem like a foregone conclusion after voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska legalized marijuana use and obliged their governments to develop guidelines for how and where pot can be grown, sold and taxed.

However, conference organizer Alex Rogers says the size of California’s existing medical marijuana industry and the few restrictions on it means it will take some effort to persuade all the relevant players that complete legalization would be a step forward.

The state previously defeated another effort to legalize recreational use in 2010.

“California has a huge task ahead of them,” said Rogers, who owns two medical marijuana clinics in Oregon. “Sometimes these big institutional events can give people this ‘kumbaya’ feeling even if it’s momentary and there can be some simpatico consensus that starts to take place.”

Issues that remain to be resolved in the California effort include whether recreational pot users would be allowed to grow their own plants, as medical marijuana users and patient collectives can do now, and whether the hundreds of store-front dispensaries and delivery services that sell medical marijuana will get to stay in business, vie for a limited number of commercial sales licenses or close up shop.

One of the main speakers at the two-day conference will be U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a 13-term Orange County Republican who has emerged as a leading voice of marijuana law reform on Capitol Hill. Also scheduled to appear is travel guidebook writer Rick Steves, another outspoken supporter of marijuana legalization.

The New York-based Drug Police Alliance, a national advocacy group that has an established presence in California, is expected to have a significant role in next year’s likely legalization campaign. Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann acknowledged that forming an effective campaign coalition that unites people who have an interest in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and those who feel threatened by it is going to take work.

“This is not going to be a labour of love. This is going to be a labour of labour,” said Nadelmann, who is also scheduled to speak at the weekend conference.

Backers of legalization have until late August to submit a proposed initiative to the secretary of state and until April 2016 to gather signatures needed to qualify a measure for the November ballot.

ICE Futures Canada prices higher

WINNIPEG – ICE Futures Canada closing prices:Canola: March ’15 $4.20 higher $467.40; May ’15 $3.50 higher $463.10; July ’15 $2.90 higher $458.80; Nov ’15 $2.60 higher $448.40; Jan. ’16 $2.80 higher $451.30; March ’16 $2.90 higher $455.30; May ’16 $2.80…

FDA panel to review application for ‘modified risk’ tobacco

RICHMOND, Va. – A Food and Drug Administration panel is planning to review smokeless tobacco maker Swedish Match’s request to certify its General-branded pouches of tobacco as less harmful than cigarettes.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee has scheduled a two-day meeting beginning April 9 to discuss the request that the agency approve the snus (pronounced “snoose”) products as “modified risk.”

Snus — teabag-like pouches or loose tobacco that users stick between their cheek and gum to get their nicotine fix — are popular in Scandinavian countries and are part of a growing smokeless tobacco market in the U.S.

In an application filed in June, the company, whose North American headquarters is in Richmond, Virginia, is proposing to say the snus products are addictive but substantially less risky than smoking. The company also wants permission to remove one of the required health warning labels relating to oral cancer.

The advisory panel’s review and FDA’s ultimate action on the application are being closely watched by both the public health community and tobacco companies, which are looking for new products to sell as they face declining cigarette demand due to tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma. Many panels advise the FDA on scientific issues. The agency doesn’t have to follow their recommendations but usually does.

Swedish Match’s application also highlights a philosophical debate over how best to control tobacco. One camp says there’s no safe way to use tobacco and pushes for people to quit above all else. Others embrace the idea that lower-risk alternatives like smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes can improve public health, if they mean fewer people smoke.

The entire review process is expected to take about a year under a 2009 law that gave the FDA authority to evaluate tobacco products for their health risks and lets the agency approve ones that could be marketed as safer than others. None has been given the OK yet, but the agency has noted that some tobacco products could pose less of a health risk to users than smoking.

General (pronounced gen-er-AHL) snus was first sold in Sweden in mid-1860s and has been sold in the U.S. since 2007 by the subsidiary of Stockholm-based Swedish Match AB. It is currently available nationwide in more than 20,000 stores and is kept in small chillers to preserve the product. The brand has at least a 6 per cent share of the retail market, which is dominated by Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc., which sells the market-leading Camel-branded snus, and Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., which sells Marlboro-branded snus.

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .

Events in Canada’s 2003 mad cow crisis

A look back at Canada’s mad cow crisis 2003-2005:

May 20, 2003: Canadian Food Inspection Agency announces a black Angus cow from northern Alberta has been found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy. United States immediately closes its border to Canadian beef and cattle. About 40 countries follow suit.

June 17: Federal Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief announces a beef industry compensation package, cost-shared with provinces, of up to $460 million. A day later, he announces changes to slaughter rules: cattle tissues at high risk to carry BSE — notably brain and spinal cord — must be removed at the slaughterhouse from cattle older than 2.

Aug. 8: U.S. and Mexico partially lift ban on some Canadian beef products.

Dec. 23: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announces the first U.S. case of mad cow — a Holstein in Washington state. About 30 countries eventually close their borders to U.S. beef. Canada imposes a partial ban.

Jan. 6, 2004: DNA tests confirm the Washington cow came from an Alberta herd.

Jan. 9: Bob Speller, successor to Vanclief as agriculture minister, announces $92 million will be spent over five years to increase mad cow testing.

Feb. 24: Statistics Canada reports farm income fell to its lowest level in three years in 2003 due in part to the mad cow crisis.

March 22: Prime Minister Paul Martin visits Alberta cattle country to announce an extra $995 million in mad cow aid. Two-thirds will go directly to cattle producers.

April 19: U.S. government changes import rules and begins accepting more beef products from Canada. It later reaches a deal with R-CALF USA, a protectionist cattle group, to halt imports of Canadian-processed beef products.

Nov. 29: Report from BMO’s economics department says Canadian cattle producers have lost about $5 billion since the crisis began.

Dec. 29: U.S. announces plans to reopen the border March 7, 2005, to nearly all Canadian exports of beef and live cattle.

Dec. 30: CFIA announces that preliminary tests show BSE is suspected in a 10-year-old Alberta dairy cow. U.S. officials say the news won’t change plan to reopen the border.

Jan. 2, 2005: Tests confirm dairy cow has BSE. American Meat Institute, a packers’ lobby, sues U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove all restrictions on Canadian beef.

Jan. 11: Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell confirms another case of BSE in Canada, again in an Alberta cow, probably due to contaminated feed. Officials say no part of the animal has entered human food or animal feed systems.

Jan. 13: Wilhelm Vohs, owner of latest Alberta mad cow, says he used commercial feed sold a year after federal rules banned ruminant parts in cattle feed.

Jan 14: Alberta Premier Ralph Klein says humans would have to eat billions of servings of bovine spinal cords, eyeballs and tonsils to get mad cow disease.

Jan 20: New research suggests proteins that cause BSE can be found in more tissues than previously thought.

Feb. 11: CFIA investigation into the last case of mad cow disease in Canada concludes that feeds manufactured after the national ban on parts in feed probably spread the disease.

Feb 25: Report by U.S. Agriculture Department technical team says Canada has robust inspection, overall compliance with feed ban is good and ban is reducing risk of BSE transmission in Canadian cattle.

March 2: U.S. judge slams shut the door to live Canadian cattle and expanded beef imports, granting R-CALF’s request to postpone reopening the border.

March 3: U.S. senators voice fierce resistance to resuming cattle trade with Canada. Vote 52-46 to reject U.S. Agriculture Department’s plan to start importing Canadian cattle.

March 7: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pledge more money to help beef industry.

March 10: Ottawa kicks in $50 million for a campaign to reclaim and expand markets for Canadian beef.

March 11: The National Meatpackers Association files a long-shot emergency appeal with a San Francisco court to try to overturn a Montana judge’s ruling that Canadian beef poses health hazards.

March 17: U.S. officials announce decision to appeal the court-imposed extension of the border closure.

March 29: Agriculture minister Mitchell announces that Canadian farmers will get $1 billion more in income support.

April 11: Canada’s cattle producers file four class-action lawsuits accusing the federal government of negligence on the BSE file. Seek $7 billion in compensation.

April 12: Former inspector for the U.S Agriculture Department says his government is covering up mad cow disease. Lester Friedlander says he was fired from his job as head of inspections at a large meat-packing plant in Philadelphia in 1995 after criticizing what he called unsafe practices.

May 18: Alberta Agriculture Minister Doug Horner announces that province will require high-tech branding to verify age of all cattle slaughtered after March 2007.

June 29: Washington confirms a case of mad cow in a cow from Texas that was killed in November.

July 14: Federal appeals court in San Francisco overturns ban on Canadian cattle. Hours later, the U.S. agriculture secretary reopens border to live Canadian cattle.