This story is over 5 years old.


In Quebec, the Most Aggressive Cartel Is the Maple Syrup Federation

In attempts to regulate prices and monopolize the maple syrup supply, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has turned to security guards, surveillance, and seizures.
Photo via Flickr user Susy Morris

As a larger society, here in North America, there are certain things that we've come to agree shouldn't be distributed freely. Heroin, for example. Or take something legal but controlled, like alcohol, which is widely available but not served to children or allowed to be made and sold by just anybody.

But in Canada, there is a different war raging between producers, suppliers, and kingpins, not over narcotics, but over something sweet and sticky.


WATCH: Keep It Canada - Trout Fishing, Skeet Shooting, and Foraging in Quebec

As The New York Times reports today, the arm of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is long, and comes down harshly on producers, big and small, who want to harvest maple syrup outside of the federation's existing system. And it's a massive system; Quebec produces some 70 percent of the world's maple syrup.

Take Robert Hodge, for instance, who owns a 12,000-tree farm in the Quebec province, which is home to about 7,400 maple syrup farms. After weeks of being monitored by security guards sent by the federation, his entire annual production of maple syrup on his privately owned farm was seized and taken into the possession of the sugary overseers. The net worth of the haul: 60,000 Canadian dollars (about US $46,000).

"We make that syrup, we bought the land, and we put the equipment in the sugar camp," Hodge told the Times. "Why should anyone be telling us that the product isn't ours to do as we please?"

The reason why is very specific, actually. Half a century ago, according to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, maple syrup producers came together in attempts to regulate the price of Canada's maple syrup, which fluctuated significantly from year to year due to the typical ups and downs of Mother Nature. At the time, it seemed to make the most sense for farmers to unite and pool their product in order to ensure that market prices were fair for syrup and maple sugar. And for a time, it worked. (The price of maple syrup is now 20 times higher than that of crude oil, gallon for gallon.)


But now, as the the only wholesale seller of the Quebec's syrup supply, the federation has the air of a cartel, though it is approved and protected by the government. Security guards, surveillance, and seizures against defectors and naysayers have become commonplace.

And naturally, there are some farmers who would rather not buy in. And that's where trouble brews with officials from the federation, who were granted more power this year to go after renegade producers. "The black market is destroying what we [built] 20 years [ago]," one such official says in the video above.

Maple syrup producer Steve Côté had an experience similar to Hodge's. "He said, 'I'm coming to take the federation's syrup," Côté said, referring to when his syrup was seized. "I said, 'It's not the federation's syrup, it's my syrup.' They took everything. They didn't [leave] one can for my family."

Although the maple syrup is technically black market, many producers don't view it as such. "We're making maple syrup. It's not drugs, it's not booze, it's not supposed to be illegal," Côté argues. "It should be free market, free enterprise. It's the feeling I have."

Many smaller producers are also disheartened at the notion of not being able to pass on their farms to their families. Some farmers are even threatening to put their farms up for sale next year if the issue isn't resolved.

"I like the feeling of being my own boss, and of being out in the woods." Hodge says. "I get a little emotional myself when I start talking about it and all.'