An agriculture reporter attended a public meeting in Stratford last month with 170 pork producers filling the room.
The speaker, a U.S. scientist, opened the meeting by saying his findings had to remain confidential. But if he wanted it to be confidential he shouldn’t have opened up to one news reporter and a room full of people under no obligation to not tell their neighbours or tweet what they were about to hear.
To protect those involved I won’t mention any names. But this scientist has done the most extensive research in the world, thus far, on the devastating PED virus in the swine industry. He was flown in to share his findings.
His findings, yet to be published, showed alarming methods of spreading the disease. His research contradicts the official Canadian and U.S. views, and suggests the virus is more easily spread than we thought and could be transported from Europe to North America by boat or plane.
He found that the virus can live in snow and be transported from one place to another. For the study, he intentionally infected a clump of snow that he attached to a truck that then travelled a number of miles. The snow was then thrown down in a parking lot and trampled to slush. The slush was still transmitting the disease.
His specific findings, far more extensive and detailed than this, took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency by surprise. It blew the present CFIA findings and proclamations of how the disease could spread right out of the water. It was an embarrassment to reveal the Canadian government’s published material for farmers was inadequate.
Hence the media had to be muzzled.
Pork officials told the reporter at the event not to publish the story until the research was published in a formal publication, which, quite possibly, could be months away. This would also give CFIA time to possibly expand their protocols.
The reporter was torn as whether to publish, “and burn my bridges to the industry,” or print what farmers needed to know right now.
I would have printed right away.
In today’s world, how many Twitter and Facebook postings were made during and after that meeting on this explosive subject? And how many more morphed into related messages?
This is why the increasingly closed-door meetings to reporters, especially in dairy, is such a joke in today’s world.
Burning bridges with the media controllers is actually a huge benefit as a reporter, since those really in the loop are willing to provide important information to reporters who believe that facts matter and are not industry lap dogs.
On Dec. 19, for example, the World Trade Organization passed a non-binding, but historic and profound resolution to eliminate export subsidies in agriculture.
Export subsidies weren’t eliminated for Canadian dairy, but capped at 2003 to 2005 averages. The WTO decision also barred subsidized new products to new markets and blocked the selling of dairy products to developing nations after Jan. 1, 2016.
On Dec. 19, the Canadian and American dairy processors’ experts at the talks in Africa had emailed reports — I got the emails on the 19th as well — to their processor leaders. The Dairy Farmers of Canada should have been in the loop.
One Canadian president of an international processor included noted, “it’s a dark day for DFC.”
The entire ongoing producer/processor negotiations on an ingredient strategy and developing a long-term export component for the Canadian industry was now in the toilet.
I forwarded the reports on to an agricultural blog who posted them instantly and then on to daily farm website. I also forwarded the reports to a fairly bright local dairy producer.
“Where did you get this?” blurted a 10-year milk committee member and now a county president, when this bright local forwarded the information. “This can’t be true.”
The committee man gets all his information from the people he pays six figures to each year, and if they don’t tell him, he doesn’t know. Hence, “this means nothing,” said the milk committee man, having not read one syllable of the actual deal and how Article 9.4 subsidy was affected.
I interviewed the head of the Canadian Dairy Commission, Jacques Laforge, the morning of Dec. 21 and he was only starting to read it then, noting, “you have information I don’t have.”
Which is why, for the unvarnished truth to be told to farmers, you need independent reporters.
Ian Cumming is a former Glengarry County dairy farmer and now farms with his son in northern New York state.