At some point over the past six months, provincial bureaucrats prepared six pages of briefing materials for Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne on the issue of milk quality.
But if you want to know what they told him, you’re out of luck — the Newfoundland and Labrador government has classified every word of that briefing as a secret.
It’s the same thing for eight pages of correspondence between the province’s Farm Industry Review Board and registered producers or dairy farmers on the same topic. Those records, involving the board that oversees the industry, are also off-limits to the public.
CBC News has no indication that there are problems with milk quality in Newfoundland and Labrador, but asked for those records through access to information, after receiving an anonymous tip.
The province says releasing any of that information about milk quality would harm the government’s financial interests, and also harm the business interests of a third party.
It’s not clear why that’s the case. The department declined comment.
N.L. standards same as rest of country
Meanwhile, the Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador said it doesn’t know the reasoning behind the government’s decision.
“We wouldn’t be privy to this type of information,” general manager John Moores said in an email to CBC News.
Every producer in Newfoundland and Labrador is compliant with the Canadian Quality Milk program, an on-farm food safety program.
– John Moores
Moores said the milk quality standards in Newfoundland and Labrador are the same as those in place throughout the country.
“All producers in our province are in compliance with this program as outlined in the Newfoundland and Labrador Milk Regulations,” Moores noted.
“In addition to this, every producer in Newfoundland and Labrador is compliant with the Canadian Quality Milk program, an on-farm food safety program.”
He said each and every load of milk arriving at a processing plant is tested for antibiotics, adding that if a load is positive, the milk is destroyed and is never processed into finished products.
“Dairy producers in Newfoundland and Labrador are proud of the product they produce,” he said.
“We take pride in being able to supply Newfoundland and Labrador consumers with high quality, fresh milk, each and every day.”
Appeal of decision in the works
CBC News is in the process of filing an appeal with the information and privacy commissioner about the department’s decision to withhold milk quality records.
The first exemption — related to the province’s financial interests — is discretionary, which means it doesn’t apply if government officials decide not to use it. In this case, they did.
The second exemption — related to business interests — is mandatory, but a tough three-part test must be met for it to be properly applied. And it can be waived if the third party consents.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources website, there are 39 registered producers in the province’s dairy industry.
The department notes that dairy farmers produced over 48.5 million litres of milk in 2006, valued at $37.8 million.
By: Rob Antle
Source: CBC News