Canadians Arrest Maple Syrup Thieves
OTTAWA — It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity.
The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel.
On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup.
Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry.
Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance.
“It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.”
Since 1999, Quebec’s maple syrup industry has used a marketing system found in other Canadian agricultural sectors, particularly dairy and poultry.
Put simply, the supply management system sets strict quotas for producers and, in the case of maple syrup, requires them to sell their product through the federation.
The sap that becomes maple syrup after being boiled down often flows for only a short period each spring. Weather changes can introduce wild fluctuations in how much emerges from sugar maple trees.
To maintain stable and high prices, the federation stockpiles every drop its members produce beyond their quota. During bad seasons, it dips into that supply.
“In the States you have the strategic oil reserve,” Mr. Trépanier said, continuing with his petroleum analogy. “Mother Nature is not generous every year, so we have our own global strategic reserve.”
That leaves one important question unanswered. Who controls the Strategic Bacon Reserve?