It Might Be the Greatest Food Crime in History

'Vanity Fair' takes a deep dive into maple syrup theft of 2012
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2016 2:45 PM CST
Updated Dec 11, 2016 7:58 AM CST
It Might Be the Greatest Food Crime in History
Sample bottles containing various grades of maple syrup are seen in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

It was an epic heist and the most Canadian crime ever, to boot: Back in 2012, thieves stole 540,000 gallons of maple syrup worth at least $13 million. It was nothing less than mind-boggling, writes Rich Cohen at Vanity Fair. "It felt less like a crime than a prank, what you might do to your brother if you were all-powerful and he had a lot of syrup." But as his long feature explains, it was indeed serious business, and at the heart of the strange tale is a group he likens to the OPEC of the syrup world: the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Quebec makes 72% of the world's maple syrup, and the federation keeps an "ironfisted" control over the precious stuff, he writes. How precious? At $1,300 a barrel, maple syrup is worth roughly 26 times more than oil. And while the federation's policies have kept prices high, they also may have led to what the piece calls "one of the greatest agricultural crimes in all of history."

Critics liken the group not just to OPEC but, as one rogue producer puts it, to "the mafia." The federation keeps prices stable by maintaining a gigantic reserve of maple syrup and thus controlling supply. It was this reserve that thieves began stealing from in a months-long scheme. They'd remove barrels of syrup from a warehouse, siphon out the syrup, replace it with water, then replace the barrel. A warehouse worker finally noticed something was amiss in July of that year, and international headlines ensued. (The reputed ringleader was found guilty last month.) The full story has more details on the heist and the great detective work that followed, along with a primer on the world of syrup that includes this nugget: While Quebec makes 72% of maple syrup, the US has far more maple trees, meaning that "if the Americans ever make the push to self-sufficiency, French Canada is cooked." Read it here. (More Longform stories.)

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