The thing - the big thing - the egg marketing board and the food inspection agency have overlooked or couldn't give two hoots about in their ongoing assault on farmer Shawn Carmichael is the optics, the way this fiasco appears to people outside agriculture.
"People outside agriculture?" They're otherwise known as consumers, those who buy the product and keep bread on the table of quota egg farmers.
What those folks see is big business, backed by federal enforcers, ganging up on the little guy to take away his tiny piece of the pie. They've heard the word quota connected to some commodities but they don't really know how it works and couldn't care less.
All they care about is access to fresh eggs at a reasonable price. By all accounts of his retail buyers and their customers, that's exactly what Carmichael was delivering.
But Carmichael ran afoul of the Egg Farmers of Ontario marketing board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency by allegedly operating without quota and marketing ungraded eggs.
Not only has neither accusation ever been proven in court, but the agencies took more than three months to actually go to court after a March raid on Carmichael's farm, during which time the CFIA in particular took the back door in trying to shut him down by hassling his customers and lifting his grading licence.
As reported elsewhere in this issue, the enforcers have been granted temporary injunctions prohibiting Carmichael from processing and marketing eggs at least until Aug. 29 when the farmer will defend himself against permanent injunctions.
The agencies got their way although Carmichael's lawyer was unable to be in court to argue the merits of the case. While the judge granted a remand, he also allowed the temporary injunctions which could deliver the final coup de grace on the farmer.
So how do consumers digest all this? Well, if we accept that one of the chief information providers for average Canadians is Reader's Digest, they're getting a sharply negative interpretation upon which to ruminate, starting with the magazine placing an article on Carmichael under its regular feature headline That's Outrageous!
Artwork connected to the feature leaves no doubt where the piece is headed. It shows four military or police personnel in full battle gear pointing machine guns at a terrified hen while lifting her off her nest.
As far as the image of EFO in particular, it goes downhill from there. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, the article begins with the OPP-backed raid and search by "gallant enforcers" for "Bootleg eggs. Outlaw chickens."
Reporting other details of the descent on Carmichael's farm by the "poultry patrollers", the article then advises its likely bewildered readers: "If this all seems incredible, if you think governments and police should have better things to do, then you don't know about supply management."
That concept, writer Brian Kappler helpfully reveals, involves a "little known cartel like OPEC, of producers, resulting in legal price fixing at the expense of consumers." He then goes on to provide a Supply Management 101 lesson, including that both price and supply are controlled "so producers don't need to compete."
"The point is to guarantee a profit to producers, and it works well for those who are in the club."
With quota worth $175 per laying hen and EFO members averaging 20,000 each, many of those "in the club" are "millionaires two or three times over in quota value alone." The system, Kappler notes, is financed with a levy on eggs which stands at about 34.5 cents per dozen. "Of course, this cost is passed on to consumers."
Coming down the home stretch, he contends that "producers are happy with the status quo, know how to motivate politicians and easily outweigh consumers, who lack lobbying muscle of their own."
He concludes that "egg commando units will ride again, stamping out enterprise and competition in the continuing crusade to make the world safe for quota holders."
Ouch! That's the image of EFO members being generated out there by the mainstream RD, bad PR which could have been so easily avoided by enforcement agencies acting up front and publicly, by laying charges and going to court right away, in other words, by following the proper channels to which all Canadians are entitled.
The days of such agencies acting in the shadows as judge, jury and executioner, especially with the confrontational Ontario Landowners Association on the scene, are long gone.