From Natural Resource Commodity to Criminality: The Canadian Maple Syrup Saga Continues

1342550090113_178689About a year ago I got an email from a coworker in our Toronto office about a maple syrup heist that became global news – and shortly thereafter was the inspiration for my first Freshly Pressed blog about what makes criminal behavior something laughable rather than something tragic.

About 8 months later, last night, said coworker sent me another recent article from The Globe and Mail copied below, as a follow-up.  Apparently, the saga continues with a very cartoon-like organized crime-inspired theme as they start bringing down the maple-wood hammer on bootleggers.

I think it’s interesting how deviant behavior is entirely socially derived based on the context of the natural resources that support our subsistence.  In the case of Canada, apparently the worst thing you can do is mess with the maple syrup.

Enjoy the journalism / social commentary:

April 17, 2013
Raids on Quebec maple-syrup ‘delinquents’ leaves producer with bitter taste
Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers seizes syrup from producers allegedly not adhering to its production and marketing rules: ‘They left with my revenue for the year’

Quebec’s maple-syrup syndicate is cracking down on rogue sugar shacks, seizing the sweet-tooth assets of producers who are alleged to be flouting the province’s strict regulation of sap.

Steve Côté, owner of a 450-acre spread in the Eastern Townships south of Sherbrooke, was stunned Tuesday morning to see a bailiff and three men in two tractor trailers pull in with a court-approved order to seize his entire 2013 production: about 100 barrels and several boxes containing hundreds of cans.

The booty – seized and held by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers – is worth an estimated $100,000 to $125,000, said Mr. Côté, whose family enterprise has had run-ins with the federation before.

The federation – which has authority over all maple-syrup production and marketing in the province and is essentially a legal cartel – alleges that renegade producers are circumventing rules agreed to by all members.

It claims they refuse to participate in the quota system, report their inventory or transfer any of their surplus into an “international strategic reserve” used to help make up for poor seasons and to stabilize prices.

“They left with my revenue for the year,” Mr. Côté said about Tuesday’s day-long operation, which included taking a thorough inventory of the syrup.

The store of syrup is to be sealed and warehoused until the matter is resolved, either in court or through negotiation. Mr. Côté has five days to contest Tuesday’s seizing of his syrup.

Two other maple-syrup producers in the Eastern Townships and Beauce areas were also raided Tuesday.

“It was like a blitz,” said Mr. Côté, who refuses to join the federation’s membership of about 7,400 producers but is nonetheless bound by its rules.

“It seems the goal is to choke us until we give in.”

Federation assistant director Paul Rouillard said the raids were conducted because of suspicions that the producers were in breach of the production and marketing rules.

“There will always be some delinquents in any association,” said Mr. Rouillard, pointing out that the provincial Agriculture and Food Marketing Board oversaw a vote in 1989 that gave the federation control over all maple-syrup production and marketing, followed by another vote in 2012 creating the quota system for bulk sales.

Any malcontents should realize that maple-syrup prices have soared over the past 10 years thanks to the federation’s ability to organize production and marketing so as to avoid volatile price swings and value-destroying surpluses or shortages, Mr. Rouillard said.

“They’ve benefited from the colossal undertaking of this federation.”

Still, a black market has developed over the years as frustrated producers decide they can do better selling outside the system.

A striking example of the underground channel in action is last year’s heist of about 10,000 barrels of stockpiled syrup at the federation’s “strategic reserve”: a rented depot in St.-Louis-de-Blandford.

The golden elixir was valued at about $20-million and part of the product made its way to buyers outside Quebec, some of whom may not have known it was stolen.

Quebec produces almost 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup, but increasingly faces a threat from states such as New York and Vermont that have been ramping up production.

Critics say the Quebec federation is using unnecessarily police-like tactics in its crackdown and that it sets prices artificially low when most jurisdictions – notably in the United States – operate as free markets.

“I know a lot of members who would leave tomorrow if they could. They’ve had enough,” Mr. Côté said. “We need a marketing agency, yes, but if you want to develop on your own, you should have that choice.”

The federation says on its website that its measures are “imperative because the free market structure generated drove down revenue for producers, reduced the number of operating businesses, consolidated the remaining companies, and undermined the vitality of rural municipalities in Quebec.”


Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Food, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “From Natural Resource Commodity to Criminality: The Canadian Maple Syrup Saga Continues

  1. This is surely ripe for a Hollywood blockbuster, they could call it ‘The Maple Thief’…geddit? Like maple leaf…I’ll get my coat.

  2. I needed to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it.

    I’ve got you book marked to look at new things you post…

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