Fighting Back Against Québec’s Provincial Maple Syrup Cartel

business_ethics_highlights_2Is the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec a marketing board or a police state? >>>

Maple Syrup Rebellion

This diminutive, twinkle-eyed grandmother hardly looks the part of a guerilla. Yet in recent years Grenier and other maple syrup producers in Quebec have sent the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec — the provincial syrup producers’ union — into paroxysms of rage. There is a maple syrup insurgency afoot, and the union is doing everything it can to thwart the subversive activity of Grenier and her fellow insurrectionist syrup producers.

Backed by the Quebec justice system and the provincial police, sheriffs have raided sugar shacks down country roads and seized barrels of maple syrup, using trucks and front-end loaders. The federation’s goal: enforcing a supply management system that controls the sale and proceeds of maple syrup in Quebec.

Quebec is the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup. This food fight has shattered the bucolic image of sugaring-off season here. Producers whisk away their sweet liquid by night, trade in “black market syrup” and rage against what they call the “mafia” of the producers’ union.

Having tapped her maple spouts, Grenier returns to her sugar shack. Unannounced, Mathieu Audy, an inspector from the federation, pulls up. He takes notes and snaps photos. Then the questioning begins.

“Did you change your press?” Audy asks Grenier. “How much maple syrup have you made? What size are those barrels? Thirty-two gallons? Thirty-four? Did the sap run on Good Friday? Is it just running from gravity? Do you have a production registry?”

The provincial syrup cartel imposes quotas on producers, stockpiles the surplus, and fixes the price of syrup. Getting a more reliable, less volatile price was exactly what producers wanted when delegates voted to create a marketing board in 2001.

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