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Quebec to back beleaguered cheese industry

Quebec’s cheese industry, fighting an uphill marketing battle against a recent listeria crisis of its own, will get $8.4 million in provincial support over the next three years for development.

The cash will go to fund the province’s five-point plan for development and economic growth in the province’s fine cheese sector, Agriculture Minister Laurent Lessard said Friday.

It’s important that Quebec consumers again take up the habit of buying Quebec cheeses, he said, emphasizing that all Quebec cheesemakers with product currently on the market are offering healthy, safe cheese.

Retailers and distributors should also send a signal to cheesemakers to refill orders and avoid a break in the supply chain, he said.

Lessard’s plan calls for:

  • a temporary screening and prevention program in factories making cheese from raw or heat-treated milk;
  • development of best-management practices and guides for retailers selling Quebec cheeses;
  • boosting quality control and assurance programs at cheese factories, including financial supports and incentives to develop such programs;
  • loans, to be offered through La financiere agricole, the provincial ag lender, with a one-year interest-free period; and
  • a fund to boost the value of Quebec cheeses in the food market, including a publicity campaign, in-store promotions and supports for purchase of Quebec cheeses.

“Pyromaniac firefighter”

Reacting Friday, l’Action democratique’s opposition ag critic Albert De Martin called Lessard’s announcement an admission that the province’s actions during the listeria investigation, which included the recall and disposal of major quantities of product, were in panic and failed the cheese industry.

Parti Quebecois MNA Agnes Maltais, in a separate release, likened the Liberal government’s moves Friday to those of a “pyromaniac firefighter.” PQ ag critic Sylvain Page said in the same release that Lessard had had a report in hand since 2005 which was essentially an instruction manual to specific procedures and best-management practices for the cheese industry.

“After having repeated that he wouldn’t give one cent to cheesemakers and retailers caught up in the listeria crisis, (Lessard) has done an about-face,” farm newspaper La terre de chez nous wrote in French on its website Friday.

In a separate article Friday on its site, La terre reported that Quebec’s dairy producers’ association plans to provide $500,000 in financial aid to 35 artisan cheesemakers hit by the listeria crisis.

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