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Maple syrup heist baffles Quebec

Thieves in Quebec may have pulled off the sweetest heist of all time, siphoning off a reservoir of maple syrup from a warehouse and cleverly covering up their caper to evade detection, an industry group said on Friday.

The warehouse in the Centre-du-Quebec region held more than $30 million worth of maple syrup, a whopping 10 million pounds of the amber pancake topping.

It was not clear exactly how much of the sweet stuff was taken in the heist, which occurred at some point over the last few days and was uncovered during a routine inventory check.

"We don’t know yet how much is missing — we do know it is significant," said Anne-Marie Granger Godbout, executive director of the Federation des producteurs acericoles du Quebec, the province’s producer group and syrup marketing agency.

Numerous barrels in the warehouse were emptied of their contents. The remaining barrels need to be weighed and tested to ensure the syrup inside had not been tampered with.

The robbers "were wise enough, they tried to hide their crime," said Granger Godbout. "We just want to make sure we know how much is missing and how much is still there."

While the federation didn’t speculate on how much syrup went missing, Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper has quoted Sgt. Richard Gagne of Quebec’s provincial police force, the Surete du Quebec (SQ), as saying it’s a "very large amount" valued in the "millions of dollars."

The warehouse at St-Louis-de-Blandford, about 70 km east of Trois-Rivieres, is one of many locations where Quebec’s maple syrup is temporarily stored ahead of sale and distribution.

The agency believes the syrup was taken to be sold on the black market. The SQ is investigating, having "immediately secured and (begun) to monitor the area," the federation said.

With Quebec’s 2012 harvest expected to top 96 million pounds, the province produces some 75 per cent of the global supply of maple syrup.

All the syrup held by the federation is insured, according to the Longueuil-based organization, which said it now represents about 10,000 producers provincewide.

About two-thirds of Canada’s maple syrup production is exported to the U.S. The Quebec federation said several states’ producers have seen a "very low, indeed catastrophic" harvest during the 2012 season, while Quebec’s harvest "remained normal."

The federation said its syrup inventories supply markets during periods of weaker harvests and can thus be considered a "global strategic reserve."

"I can assure you there will be no shortage in maple syrup," said Granger Godbout.

Ironically, the federation said, it bought a facility last March at Laurierville, about 40 km east of the St-Louis warehouse, "to fulfill its additional space requirements to store the agency’s maple syrup inventory."

Retrofits at the Laurierville site to store syrup are "currently underway," the federation said, noting it was temporarily storing syrup at the St-Louis warehouse that was to be moved to Laurierville over the next few weeks.

— Julie Gordon reports on commodities from Reuters’ bureau in Toronto. Includes files from Network staff.

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