First conviction in Quebec maple syrup heist

The Maple Syrup Gang sounds like something out of Little Rascals and the He Man Woman Haters Club.

our_gangIn Dec. 2012, 18 people were arrested in Quebec after pulling off a massive maple syrup heist.

The sweet stuff was stolen in the town of Saint-Louis-de-Blandford between August 2011 and July 2012.

About 2.7 million kilograms of maple syrup, worth up to $18 million, was reported missing after a routine inventory check last summer.

Last week, Graeme Hamilton of the National Post reported a jury decided three of the men involved were common criminals.

After two days of deliberations at the courthouse in Trois-Rivières, Que., the 12-member jury delivered guilty verdicts against one of the ringleaders and two of his accomplices in the first case to come to trial following the brazen syrup theft.

Richard Vallières, 38, was found guilty of theft, fraud and traffic of stolen syrup. Étienne St-Pierre, 73, was convicted of fraud and trafficking, and Raymond Vallières, Richard’s 62-year-old father, was convicted of possession of stolen syrup. A fourth accused, Jean Lord, was acquitted on a possession charge.

The trial heard that over a 12-month period in 2011 and 2012, nearly 3,000 tonnes of syrup disappeared from a warehouse used by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. In dollar terms, it was “the largest theft investigated by the Sûreté du Québec in its history,” Crown prosecutor Julien Beauchamp-Laliberté said.

The theft and fraud were committed against the provincial federation, which acts as a marketing board. The stolen syrup was pumped into a black market that undermines the quotas and prices established by the federation, the prosecutor said.

During the fall of 2011, a tractor-trailer began appearing at a federation warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. and loading up barrels filled with syrup from that spring’s harvest. The barrels were transported to a sugar shack belonging to Raymond Vallières, where they were emptied and replaced with stream water. When the stream froze over, the syrup-transfer operation moved to a warehouse in Montreal in early 2012. Finally, the prosecutor said, the thieves drained the barrels directly at the federation warehouse. In total, 9,571 barrels were surreptitiously emptied, representing more than half the stockpile the federation keeps to maintain a stable price.

richard-vallic3a8res-1It wasn’t until August 2012 that federation staff grew suspicious when they noticed some barrels were dirty and rusty; when the containers were tapped, some sounded emptier than others.

The theft made international headlines, but the trial heard the valuable stockpile was protected with minimal security. The warehouse “wasn’t fortified. There were no security cameras or guards,” one of the co-owners testified.

The crime occurred amid a long-running dispute between the federation and rogue syrup producers and buyers who don’t want to be constrained by the quota system. Sébastien Jutras, a trucker who served eight months in prison after pleading guilty to his involvement in the plot, testified that after one syrup delivery, Raymond Vallières offered his opinion of the federation and the syrup being drained from its reserves: “Stealing from thieves is not stealing,” he said.

In a 2014 police interview played for the jurors, Richard Vallières said he had been buying and selling on Quebec’s maple syrup black market for 10 years and had previous run-ins with the federation. “They were after me because I buy a lot. . . . They want more control over the syrup,” he said.

The trial heard that as much as $200,000 in cash changed hands for a single syrup transaction, and the players used burner phones to avoid detection.

Richard Vallières’ defence was that he committed the theft under duress. He testified that when he realized the syrup he was buying came from the federation warehouse, he tried to back out. But the seller, who cannot be identified because he faces a jury trial in January, threatened him at gunpoint. Vallières said his wife and young daughter were also threatened.

But other evidence suggested Vallières was not too troubled by the theft. The jury heard of friendly text messages between him and the supposedly menacing seller. When the theft was uncovered and splashed across the news, Vallières’ response was, “The party’s over,” the jury heard.

 A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 27.

he-man-woman-haters

What is wrong with Quebec? Maple Syrup mafia begets Bee Boy gang

After arresting 18 people for the theft of 2.7 million kilograms of maple syrup, worth up to $18 million, in 2012, Quebec police have now arrested two men in the theft of five million bees in Quebec.

belushi-beeProvincial police say the 43-year-old suspect surrendered to police on Friday in Joliette, about 50 kilometres north of Montreal.

He will appear in court on Monday.

Earlier this week the man’s 36-year-old brother was also arrested and arraigned in connection with the theft.

Police suspect the accused also made off late last month with 180 hives belonging to Jean-Marc Labonte, who estimated the value of everything stolen at $200,000.

The bees have not yet been found.

Quebec grocery stores change expiry dates to make food seem fresh

According to documents obtained through an access to information request, 12 supermarkets have been given a total of 14 citations over the past two years for changing expiry date labels on food.

The changed dates vary from as little as one day to as much as two months, and ranged from raw chicken to bacon, mussels and salmon.

“There are foods you don’t mess with,” nutritionist Stephanie Cote said. “Meat, poultry and fish especially.”

Jean-Christophe Cognault, who manages another Montreal-area grocery store, said “the practice is much more common than these 12 supermarkets.

“It’s just that most of them are never caught.”

Cognault used to work for a large supermarket. He shared a few tricks that grocers use to modify best-before and expiry dates.

“For steak, you cut off the meat that’s gone brown on the sides and repackage it,” he said.

Don’t eat moose organs: Quebec health agency

A health agency in Northern Quebec is providing some, uh, Northern Quebec advice:  don’t eat moose organs because of cadmium found in samples collected last fall.

Moose kidneys and livers are considered a delicacy among the Cree First Nations of Eeyou Istchee.

MooseLast year officials from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue health agency and Quebec’s wildlife department collected samples from the kidneys of 24 moose that were hunted in the region.

In a press release, the health agency says there were not enough samples to draw definitive conclusions. But the release says the results are still “worrying.”

Cadmium is used in plastics, batteries and solar panels.

The Abitibi-Témiscamingue health agency wants to continue its research and is asking hunters to help out by keeping a kidney from each moose killed this season and dropping it off when registering the kill at the office in Rouyn-Noranda, Que..

Nurse in critical condition; E. coli poisoning leaves 7 sick after eating at Marché 27 in Quebec

Now it’s not so much a secret.

But the owner of Montreal restaurant Marche 27 is, according to CBC News, blaming the supplier for delivering contaminated meat after seven people including a nurse who is in critical condition, were sickened with E. coli after consuming beef tartare.

Owner Jason Masso said he’s been serving tartare at Marché 27 for six years and has steak.tartare.jan.14never had a problem.

Not one he knows of.

Val D’Or resident Isabelle St-Jean told CBC Daybreak host Mike Finnerty that she had been sick for several days and went for the hospital for tests, and that’s when she found out she had E. coli poisoning.  

“They saw that I had E. coli … I was sick to my stomach for one week,” she said.

Masso said his restaurant has passed all inspections and he wants to reassure the public that he has addressed the problem and his restaurant is safe. 

“I want to make sure this never happens again,” Masso told CTV News.

“There’s a lady that was hospitalized … like critically ill — that to me is extremely important.”

That’s the risks with raw meat.

16 funerals and a lot of vomit, same caterer, Quebec, 2011

In January 2011, multiple acute gastroenteritis outbreaks that spanned many days and were related to attendance at funerals were reported to public health units in Quebec. An epidemiological investigation was initiated to identify the source of the contamination and to explain the extent 96204568_Rowan_214090gof the contamination over time. Thirty-one cohorts of individuals attended different funerals held between 14 and 19 January. All attendees were served a cold buffet made by the same caterer. Of these 31 cohorts, 16 (with a total of about 800 people) contained individuals who reported being ill after the funeral. Symptoms were mainly diarrhea (89 to 94% of individuals), vomiting (63 to 90%,) and fever (26 to 39%), with a median incubation period of 29 to 33 h and a median duration of symptoms of 24 to 33 h, suggesting norovirus-like infection. Among the 16 cohorts, 3 were selected for cohort studies. Among those three cohorts, the mean illness rate was 68%. Associations were found between those who fell ill and those who had consumed pasta salad (relative risk [RR] = 2.4; P = 0.0022) and ham sandwiches (RR = 1.8; P = 0.0096). No food handlers reported being sick. No stool samples were provided by individuals who became ill. Environmental and food samples were all negative for causative agents. Although the causative agent was not clearly identified, this investigation raised many concerns about the importance of preventing foodborne four.weddings.funeraltransmission of viral gastroenteritis and generated some recommendations for management of similar outbreaks.

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 9, January 2013, pp. 1488-1657, pp. 1582-1589(8)

Gaulin, Colette; Nguon, Soulyvane; Leblanc, Marie-Andree; Ramsay, Danielle; Roy, Sophie

The great hazelnut/Salmonella caper part deux

A lot of a risk manager’s job is just paying attention to what’s going on. Food safety types at a company that buys food and resells it (a grocery store, food service operator, wholesaler) or uses food ingredients, should be constantly scanning the news and literature for what risks suppliers are encountering. They might look for stuff like whether the vendor’s industry is dealing with increased focus from regulators or if similar inputs are being recalled or linked to illnesses.hazelnut

Paying attention is the first step, but making decisions to switch suppliers or increase standards is how food gets safer. For this to work though, information needs to be publicly shared. When a regulator finds a problem with a supplier but doesn’t name the source, hiding behind privacy rules, they are doing a disservice to public health. Pretty hard for a buyer to proactively switch away from a supplier who is having Salmonella issues if they don’t know who has problems and who doesn’t.

And so expands the recall as CFIA’s investigation reveals that an unnamed nut seller’s bulk nuts have been spread across Quebec.

The public warning issued on May 16, 2013 has been updated to include additional product and distribution information.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is warning the public not to consume certain in shell hazelnuts or mixed nuts in shell described below because the products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The following products (list can be found here -ben) were sold in packages of various weights or in bulk at the locations indicated below.  Consumers who are unsure if they have affected product are advised to check with their retailer.

These recalls are part of an on-going food safety investigation associated with a recall of bulk hazelnuts from USA. The CFIA is working with the recalling firms and distributors to identify all affected products.

The importer, distributers, and retailers are voluntarily recalling the affected products from the marketplace.  The CFIA is monitoring the effectiveness of the recall.

If I was a nut buyer, I’d want to know who the Salmonella-linked importers and distributors are.

Canadian government funds food truck to feed poutine to Mexicans, or how I met Amy

She asked if I wanted to go out for a beer.

canada-food-truckI said no.

She gave me her number.

I went home.

Later I called.

We had a beer.

We got married (after a while).
poutineAnd we owe it all to the Canadian government.

That was in Oct. 2005. Chapman and I were touring around and landed at Kansas State University where one of my PhD students was professoring.

Our first event was a wine and cheese where K-Staters could come out and poke real-live Canadians with a stick. Afterwards, this woman started chatting me up (see above).

Back then, the feds provided something approaching $20 million to U.S. institutions to edumucate them about Canada; maybe influence a future politician; who knows.

Amy the French professor included Quebecois literature in one of her courses so was part of this Canadian studies group, even though I tried to explain that Quebec wasn’t part of Canada.

So she went to that meeting to check out the Canadians.

Not sure if that Canadian studies money is still around, but the Canadian government is taking another bold initiative with neighbors even further amy.doug.2005south: the Canadian government, courtesy of taxpayers, is sending a food truck to Mexico to serve poutine.

As reported by Tina Nguyen in The Braiser via Toronto’s National Post, the truck will be serving a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca
cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière (beef pie), and maple-glazed Albacore tuna.

If José Andrés once described culinary diplomacy as “sending hidden messages through food,” the Canadian government’s message is not so much “hidden” as it is “sad and desperate”: “What do you not like about me? I can change! Really! Is it the cheese? Do you not like the curds? I can find something else! I can dress sexier! I’ll even have a threesome with the Albacore tuna! I’ll do anything for you! PLEASE LOVE ME.”

Amy loves me.

Thieves make off with 400 tonnes of corn from Quebec farm

While biking with Sarah yesterday on our ole’ timey cruisers, someone just had to accelerate and get past us because they were in a rush on the island.

They were from Quebec.

That’s the place where people steal 16,000 barrels of maple syrup.

And now, apparently, 400 tonnes of corn.

The farmer who owns the crop estimates the value of the theft at $140,000.

The unidentified farmer says the corn had been stored in silos at the farm located about 130 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Who steals $30M worth of maple syrup?

With the separatists back in power in the Canadian province of Quebec (yawn) someone decided to make a pre-emptive strike on the economy and steal $30 million worth of maple syrup.

Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup.

And Quebec has a strategic reserve of maple syrup.

According to The Atlantic, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has been managing warehouses full of surplus sweetener since 2000. The crooks seem to have made off with more than a quarter of the province’s backup supply.

Michael Farrell, an extension associate at Cornell University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and an expert in all things maple said, “We think of it as a little cottage industry here in the states. But up there [syrup is] a big industry that’s responsible for a lot of people’s livelihoods.” 

Today, Quebec taps 75 percent of the world’s supply, and its producers have been attempting to grow their market abroad. Shipments to Japan, for instance, rose 252 percent between 2000 and 2005.

The reserve makes sure there’s always enough syrup for the market. As Farrell explained, each producer sells its harvest in bulk to the federation — a government-sanctioned cooperative — which turns around and deals it to bulk buyers. When production is high, the federation siphons a portion off to store in steel drums for future use.