Friday, October 4, 2013

Small Flockers are Exempt ? ! ?

On behalf of farm gate egg sellers all across Canada, I questioned and complained to Health Canada about their upcoming Guidelines which are poised to strike Canadians in Dec. 2013. See our prior Blog posting:   Help, we're under attack!

Health Canada quickly responded.  I was shocked by HC's response.  Their initial response is that small flockers and farm gate egg sales are exempt from the new Guideline.

What ??

Yes, that's what Health Canada said.  Small flockers are exempt.  Small flockers can continue selling their eggs at the farm gate.

You may not be, but I'm totally confused.  Here is what Health Canada said on this alleged exemption:

"Section 2.11 of the guidance document defines table eggs as follows:

    A shell egg offered for sale to consumers (including retail environments, restaurants, bakeries, and other foodservice and institutional settings) for the purposes of consumption.

Eggs that are offered for sale at farm gates are excluded from the scope of the document. Please be advised that the guidance document does not recommend a ban on farm gate egg sales.  Therefore, the issues that you raised related to farm gate sales of eggs are not expected to occur."
Later on in their email, HC also states:

"The guidance document [focusses sic.] the recommendations on table eggs originating from regulated flocks, since these eggs represent the majority of eggs offered for sale on the table market." 
That makes sense to me, because this table egg source is more than 90% of the total eggs consumed.  Since I doubt there is a 100 fold higher probability of contaminated eggs with small flocker farm gateeggs, HC seems to be focusing their action on the overall risk to consumers.

Health Canada continues in the same paragraph:

However, there are numerous practices in place in the regulated sector that reduce the risk of S. Enteritidis in grade A table eggs, which do not necessarily extend to eggs originating from sources outside of the regulated sector. For this reason, sources of table eggs outside of the regulated sector may represent an increased risk to consumers.
Note that HC says "may represent an increased risk".  Is there proof, or is it enough to convict small flockers with just mere suspicions?

HC continues:

After the consultation, Health Canada sought additional evidence to support the increased risk of S. Enteritidis associated with eggs originating from sources other than the regulated flocks and has presented this information in section 8.3 of the revised guidance document. Two SE outbreak investigations in Canada, in 2010 and 2012, provide evidence supporting the hypothesis that table eggs originating from sources outside the regulated sector may represent an increased public health risk. The weight of scientific evidence supports that any laying flock, regardless of size, may put consumers at risk by supplying eggs for the table market from a flock infected with S. Enteritidis, and that eggs that are not stored or handled in a way that minimizes the S. Enteritidis hazard, may put consumers at risk.
The consultation referenced above seems to be the one held from Nov. 9 through Dec. 21, 2011.  This was before SFPFC (Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada) existed, so it seems somebody else was helping defend our interests back then.  Whomever it was, thank-you for caring and taking the effort.

CFIA now has evidence that the regulated egg producers are confirmed at having up to 11% defects (ie. dirty, cracked, expired, under sized, etc.) in their egg cartons delivered to retail stores.  The defects were alleged by other egg producers to have been purposefully done so as to punish competitive egg producers, or to obtain extra profits.  I wonder if HC included this risk in their calculations?  Can they still say that small flockers are more risky?

Even then, I'm not sure HC is talking about small flockers in the above paragraph.  Who else could they be speaking about, these "sources outside the regulated sector".  If that isn't small flockers that HC is speaking about, then exactly who do they refer to indirectly?

In Section 8.3 HC's draft Guideline refers to the use of ungraded eggs in food service establishments in British Columbia that may have caused illnesses in 2007 - 2010.  They also refer to an non-regulated egg producer who sold dirty eggs to a food service establishment.  That food service establishment had poor food handling techniques, and didn't refrigerate the dirty eggs between when they were delivered, and when they were prepared and served; resulting in 91 illnesses.

It would seem that both regulated and non-regulated egg producers could supply Salmonella contaminated eggs.  This risk can be compounded by dirty, cracked, and unrefrigerated eggs.  Either way, it puts consumers at risk. Then why does HC say small flockers and farm gate eggs are exempt from the new Guidelines? I believe it is a matter of degree of risk from these two different egg sources.  I also believe there are different expectations by consumers for these two different sources. 
My email response to Health Canada's current position on the alleged small flock table egg exemption was as follows:

"Thanks for the detailed response.

 I understand that HC excludes the sale and consumption of ungraded farm gate egg sales from your "table egg" definition.  That is hard to understand, as I see no justification for that, neither in the definition nor the report.  Please explain this exemption in the greatest detail possible.

For example, how does HC compare and contrast the sale of ungraded eggs at the farm gate to consumers ( eg. non-resident family members, neighbours, community members, etc.), or sale at Farmers Markets, or the sale to local convenience store who sells them to the public, or a roadside stand on the highway near but not on the farmer's farm?

Am I and other small flockers able to sufficiently rely upon the statements you make on behalf of HC, sufficient to avoid subsequent regulatory action for following your advice and statements?  In other words, what is your authority and expertise on these issues?

The other issues and comments may be moot based on the final definitive answer to the above statement."
I wouldn't rush out to make a major investment in small flock egg sales at the farm gate based on this preliminary and non-verified response.  Perhaps it was a typo by HC.  Perhaps it's a cruel joke to jerk our chain.

Hopefully Health Canada will soon clarify and justify this secret or mysterious position of exempting small flock egg sales at the farm gate.

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