Maple-Syrup Mystery Solved

When the news broke in August that 10,000 barrels of maple syrup worth $20 million had been stolen from the International Strategic Reserve in Quebec, the first question on most people’s minds was, “Why does Canada have a strategic maple-syrup reserve?” followed closely by, “How does someone steal 10,000 barrels of syrup from a warehouse without anyone noticing?”

The answer to the first question is that more than three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec, and the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, much like OPEC, enforces a strict quota system on producers in order to limit supply and keep prices high. Any excess production goes into the reserve and is tapped when there’s a bad harvest. The second question has been answered at last. The New York Times reports:

The spring of 2011 produced so much maple syrup that the federation added a third rented warehouse, in an industrial park alongside a busy highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, to accommodate the overflow. The surplus was pasteurized and packed into 16,000 drums, each holding 54 gallons, and left to rest except for inspections twice a year.

Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Sûreté du Québec, the police force that led the investigation, said that the thieves rented another portion of the warehouse for an unrelated business. That enabled them to drive large trucks into the building.

“They were basically inside guys,” Lieutenant Lapointe said. “The leader wasn’t with the federation, but he had access to the warehouse that would not attract any suspicion.”

When no one else was around, Lieutenant Lapointe said, the thieves gradually began emptying syrup barrels. Some Quebec news reports indicated that they also filled some barrels with water to disguise the theft.

Over time, the thieves helped themselves to six million pounds of syrup. Mr. Trépanier said their work was discovered in July, when inspectors found a few empty barrels. The full extent of the theft, he said, became clear once the police arrived.

So what did the thieves do with the syrup? It appears they smuggled it over the border to New Brunswick, which has a free maple-syrup market, and have been selling it to unsuspecting buyers. Since the United States is the largest importer of Quebec’s maple syrup, and it’s difficult to track the substance (It “doesn’t have a bar code,” Lieutenant Lapointe explained. “There’s no way to tell it apart”), it’s quite possible consumers here will end up eating the illicit breakfast condiment.

Meanwhile, while 17 suspects have been arrested so far in an investigation involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Border Services Agency, and the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Montreal Gazette reports that “four people are still at large and possibly vacationing in Florida.”

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