Why sup­ply man­age­ment may fi­nally be doomed

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - Syl­vain CharleboiS Syl­vain Charlebois is dean of the fac­ulty of man­age­ment and pro­fes­sor in food dis­tri­bu­tion and pol­icy at Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity.

some have claimed sup­ply man­age­ment was es­tab­lished as a so­cial con­tract be­tween farm­ers and con­sumers. our heav­ily crit­i­cized quota regime to sup­port the dairy, egg and poultry in­dus­tries in Canada was set up decades ago to pro­tect strate­gic agri­cul­tural sec­tors by im­ple­ment­ing high tar­iffs on im­ports. Farm­ers pro­duce what we need and im­port lit­tle from abroad — sim­ple.

there is noth­ing like it in the north­ern hemi­sphere — at least not any­more, since europe got rid of its sys­tem back in 2015. But if there in­deed ever was a so­cial con­tract, it may need to be re-drafted as naFta ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gin.

ac­cord­ing to a re­cent an­gus reid poll, barely four per cent of Cana­di­ans can ad­e­quately de­scribe what sup­ply man­age­ment re­ally is. Worse, 52 per cent of Cana­di­ans be­lieve beef is sup­ply man­aged, when it is not. What is more, 51 per cent of Cana­di­ans be­lieve milk is not sup­ply man­aged, when dairy rep­re­sents about 80 per cent of the sys­tem.

dairy Farm­ers of Canada has pub­lished sev­eral polls over the years show­ing Cana­di­ans are sup­port­ive of the sys­tem. But most of us are sim­ply clue­less about the me­chan­ics be­hind sup­ply man­age­ment.

as a re­sult, sup­ply man­age­ment has be­come a sort of po­lit­i­cal mi­rage. Most hold­ing pub­lic of­fice have told us it is good for us and for our econ­omy, with­out fully ex­plain­ing the ra­tio­nale. Few politi­cians have sought to demon­strate the in­di­rect costs of hang­ing on to such a sys­tem: lost op­por­tu­ni­ties, lack of in­no­va­tion to sup­port trade with other coun­ties, and so forth. In dairy, the sys­tem op­er­ates in ob­scu­rity with de­ci­sions made by dairy farm­ers, for dairy farm­ers. Cana­di­ans com­ply with this sys­tem, with­out know­ing all the facts. other than Con­ser­va­tive MP Maxime Bernier, who paid the price for do­ing so, no­body has ques­tioned the logic.

With health Canada send­ing sig­nals that it wants its next food guide to en­cour­age Cana­di­ans to adopt a plant-based diet, the writ­ing seems to be on the prover­bial wall.

With the sup­port of sound re­search over the years, we know that in­cit­ing adults to drink milk is just not on any­more. While sci­ence has evolved, the dairy in­dus­try has not, and ot­tawa knows it. the Cana­dian dairy sec­tor has sur­vived in spite of it­self. It doesn’t want to com­pete be­cause it has never had to. as bor­ders around the world were open­ing, dairy farm­ers were di­vorc­ing them­selves from the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion, us­ing rhetoric and con­demn­ing any­one dis­play­ing dis­con­tent for the sys­tem.

It ap­pears some dairy groups are even dis­al­low­ing re­search to be con­ducted by any re­searchers who may think dif­fer­ently. this at­ti­tude of “the sys­tem’s great and leave us alone” just doesn’t cut it any­more.

We saw the pres­i­dent of the united states ac­knowl­edg­ing this is­sue back in april. since then, mes­sages from the united states have been mixed, and the trudeau gov­ern­ment seems to be pre­par­ing for sev­eral sce­nar­ios.

It has ap­pointed an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee that in­cludes mem­bers from all po­lit­i­cal spec­trums. For agri­cul­ture, a few key ap­point­ments were made with­out favour­ing one side or the other.

Con­sumers im­plic­itly trust farm­ers, so why doubt them now? But with naFta dis­cus­sions about to start, stakes ap­pear much higher. some are start­ing to won­der if com­pro­mis­ing the fu­ture of many eco­nomic sec­tors in or­der to safe­guard sup­ply man­age­ment is worth it. ac­cord­ing to the same an­gus reid poll, most Cana­di­ans are will­ing to sac­ri­fice sup­ply man­age­ment to get a good deal with the u.s. and Mex­ico. this spells trou­ble for dairy farm­ers.

dairies in Canada are hold­ing their col­lec­tive breath. Let’s hope naFta 2.0 will be kind to them, de­spite their decades-long in­ten­tional in­er­tia.

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