Ontario Pork changes on hold pending appeals

Directives ordering Ontario Pork to change itself starting next month from a mandatory to optional hog marketing agency are now on hold, pending appeals from a number of hog producers in the province.

The Ontario government’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has slapped a continuing stay on last October’s order from the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission (OFPMC), which ordered Ontario Pork to make plans for such a changeover.

The tribunal’s stay order puts the proposed changes to Ontario Pork on hold until April 17 at the absolute earliest, when the tribunal continues its pre-hearing conference on the matter.

OFPMC had issued an order to Ontario Pork that the bulk of the overhaul come into effect “in or about” April this year, in which Ontario Pork must develop an plan to move from a mandatory marketing organization to one offering producers “choices in marketing methods.”

When or if that move happens, Ontario Pork would still have authority to “represent, and collect license fees from, producers of all classes of pigs, including weaners and breeding stock” and to address pork industry issues on hog farmers’ behalf.

But in a deregulated scenario as the OFPMC proposes, Ontario Pork would only be able to review and approve direct-supply contracts for hogs if either a buyer or a seller asks, and would be able to market pigs for producers on a fee-for-service basis.

The OFPMC gave Ontario Pork until March 1 to submit its final plan, and had also ordered that the bulk of the overhaul come into effect “in or about” April this year.

“This plan is high level at this time,” Ontario Pork said in its 133-page preliminary plan, released in January. “There are many more details to be considered before the final plan can be prepared and implemented.”

Said details range from establishing bylaws for a new, voluntary pork marketing agency, and arranging asset transfers from Ontario Pork to the new agency, to defining a new Ontario Pork Marketing agency’s services, governance model and staffing needs, dividing Ontario Pork’s office space into suites for two entities, and electing a new board.

Among other things, the agency said it will also still have to request a change in provincial regulations in order for the new marketing entity to still be named “Ontario Pork.”

But the appeal tribunal has now rejected the OFPMC’s request that the tribunal refuse all appeals in this case.

The OFPMC, in making its request, had argued that the number of appeals filed implies “persons may feel free to sit out a consultative and hearing process at the (OFPMC level) and then request party status (at a tribunal appeal hearing) when they don’t like a decision,” the tribunal said.

But the tribunal disagreed, saying there’s nothing in provincial legislation that requires people to take part in OFPMC-level hearings in order to qualify as an appellant at the tribunal level.

Thus, the appeal tribunal has granted appellant status to Rein Minnema, the Middlesex, Ont. farmer who originally asked the appeal tribunal to set aside the OFPMC’s decision and order a hog producers’ plebiscite on the future role of Ontario Pork.

The tribunal, coming out of its March 9 pre-hearing conference, has also granted appellant status to Fields Farms of Petrolia, Ont., as well as the Huron County Pork Producers’ Association and the District 10, 11 and 12 Pork Producers.

The tribunal also granted the Ontario Pork Producers’ Marketing Board “party” status in upcoming appeals, and granted the same status to Conestoga Meat Packers, the Open Marketing Group, Zantingh Direct/Zantingh Swine, and Quality Meat Packers.

Lastly, the tribunal also granted Maple Leaf Consumer Foods, Synergy Swine, Paragon Farms and RFW Farms intervenor status in the appeals process in this case.

The tribunal has also ordered the OFPMC to hand over copies of the record from its July 2008 hearing on Ontario Pork, circulating them to the appellants, parties and intervenors, by March 24 (Tuesday).

The tribunal said March 13 it would continue its pre-hearing conference on April 17 in Guelph.

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