by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A month ago, the Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal ruled that the Farm Products Marketing Commission got it wrong in October 2008 when it stripped Ontario Pork of the remnants of its monopoly powers to market hogs.
Yesterday the province’s minister of agriculture, Carol Mitchell, announced the Tribunal didn’t get it right either. “I have found that the question of how pork is marketed in Ontario is a complex issue,” Mitchell wrote in a three-page letter released to parties to the Tribunal decision on Wednesday.
Citing her authority to “confirm, vary or rescind the whole or any part of the Tribunal’s decision,” Mitchell, who was appointed minister of agriculture in January, rescinded the Tribunal’s decision regarding its “interpretation” of section 2 of the “(Farm Products Marketing Act). She extended her time to conduct a further review to May 26 and asked parties to the Tribunal hearing to make submissions to her by Apr. 14.
Mitchell wrote that The Tribunal’s “interpretation” of the Farm Producers Marketing Act “is too narrow, and doesn’t respect the policy choices that are available (and must be available) to market a regulated product.”
The Tribunal had ordered Ontario Pork to complete strategic planning and governance reforms in 18 months and to hold an expression of opinion “to ensure its recommendations have support in the industry.” It’s not clear if a plebiscite will take place now.
“Since this matter is currently before (the minister) for review, it would not be appropriate to discuss this matter at this time,” wrote ministry spokesman Brent Ross, in an e-mail response to a question about the producer vote Mitchell is MPP for Huron County, one of the three largest hog producing areas in the province. She became minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in January.
The Tribunal, with some members being experienced lawyers, held hearings over four days late last year and took until Feb. 17 to render a decision.
“I am particularly interested in receiving submissions regarding the pros and cons of having a dual desk/open market system versus the current single desk system,” Mitchell wrote. “I am looking for evidence as to what marketing system would best protect the interests of Ontario’s Pork industry and an explanation as to why Ontario should use that marketing system.”
Middlesex pork producer Rein Minnema, who appealed the Commission’s ruling to the Tribunal says his agent, Elbert van Donkersgoed, requested that the minister review the Tribunal’s decision. “We have a concern with the blanket exemption” for producers who don’t want to market hogs through Ontario Pork, Minnema says.
After the Tribunal ruled, van Donkersgoed expressed concern that producers were open to manipulation by processors if they chose not to be exempt from the powers of Ontario.
Minnema hadn’t seen the minister’s letter but expressed hope that she will do the right thing. “I think she has a lot of background information and knowledge in agriculture,” he says. “I hope that she intervenes in our favour.”
Van Donkersgoed, who had raised other issues as well in a letter to the minister, was away from his home and office today, Minnema says.
UPDATE Progressive Pork Producers/Conestoga Meat Packers will make submissions to the minister before the middle of April says spokesman Bob Hunsberger. "We are believers in open marketing. We thought the Commission had it right," he says. The minister "was in the position of having one of her organizations, the tribunal, make a somewhat different decision than the other of her organizations, the commission. I think she legally had to clarify . . . . which one is going to be correct."
Second Update The decision by the minister "was not a totally unexpected development," and Ontario Pork will prepare a submission for the minister by the April 14 deadline, says chair Wilma Jeffray.
Since the Feb. 16 Tribunal decision, the pork board has been focused on implementing the Tribunal's decision and was preparing an election for exemption as required by the Tribunal in 90 days. "this is on pause, for now," the board's chair says. Jeffray adds that "I think, given the state of the industry, producers want this process drawn to a conclusion . . . and frankly so does Ontario Pork. "An awful lot of energy has been expended in the last two years." BF