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Police probing Quebec maple syrup heist worth up to $30-million

Drums of Maple syrup are stacked in the International Strategic Reserve in Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, 40km South-West of Quebec City Wednesday March 30, 2011.

Francis Vachon/The Globe and Mail

Quebec police are on the hunt for a sticky-fingered thief after millions of dollars of maple syrup vanished from a Quebec warehouse.

The theft was discovered during a routine inventory check last week at the St-Louis-de-Blandford warehouse, where the syrup is being held temporarily. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, which is responsible for the global strategic maple syrup reserve, initially kept the news quiet, hoping it would help police solve the crime quickly.

About 10 million pounds of syrup was stored at the site, at a value of more than $30-million.

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Anne-Marie Granger Godbout, executive director of the federation, said the organization is still trying to determine how much is missing and declined to offer an estimate. But a spokesman from the Sureté du Québec said the loss was significant.

"We know that it's millions of dollars that was stolen," said Sergeant Richard Gagné. "It's a very large amount."

All of the maple syrup inventories are fully insured, according to the federation, so there will be no loss to producers.

Ms. Granger Godbout said the theft shouldn't put the global supply of maple syrup at risk, but warned it could allow the thief to undercut legitimate producers. The federation represents about 10,000 maple syrup producers in Quebec. "Obviously those people stole the maple syrup to sell it somewhere," she said. "If it's a big volume, it could be very harmful for the maple syrup industry. The companies that are working in this industry will have to compete with some company that didn't pay for the maple syrup."

Quebec produces between 70 and 80 per cent of the world's maple syrup, with the bulk of export sales taking place in the United States, according to the federation.

The warehouse where the theft occured was a temporary location, and the federation was preparing to move the now-stolen maple syrup to a new location.

Sylvain Charlebois, who researches food policy at the University of Guelph, said any disruption in the maple syrup supply could damage hard-earned gains the industry has made in global markets. The federation has been working particularly hard to build a market for the product in Asia, where it's less well known. "If they're not concerned, they should be," he said of the federation. "This is such a fragile industry, and any loss on the supply side could be devastating."

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He said it's very difficult to trace and track maple syrup, so catching an illegitimate seller could be a significant challenge. "It is going to be problematic, one way or the other, whether it's to sell through proper channels or dealing with the black market," he said.

Ms. Granger Godbout said the organization is still determining just how much syrup went missing. "It's a very long process ... we have to weigh every barrel to know the exact quantity."

But she said there's no need to worry about finding enough of the treat at grocery stores and farmers' markets. "We still have enough maple syrup. There will be no shortage," she said.

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