We need a reliable dairy industry
We want a safe product and we don’t want to be dependent on foreign sources
A few weeks ago, speaking to a group of U.S. dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Donald Trump ignited yet another firestorm of criticism of Canada’s supply management system used by dairy and poultry farmers. It is astonishing that the Canadian people and groups who continually assault this system are allowed to misrepresent and “cherry pick” these critical truths about it with so little challenge from the consuming public. This suggests to me that these systems are not well understood.
To begin with, the price that consumers pay for poultry and particularly dairy products is always cited as being exorbitant. The facts do not substantiate this. The price that consumers pay is set by the retail outlet — not by the farmers. Comparing the retail price paid by consumers in Canada with the price paid in various other jurisdictions in the world has to be done very carefully to ensure fairness in the quality and quantities being used. Critics rarely do this. The Neilson Fresh Milk Price Report of Global Retail Milk prices show that consumers in Canada pay $1.48 per litre, in New Zealand $1.60 and in the U.S. $1.65 for milk with no added hormones (they are not allowed in Canada). A large percentage of milk used by families in Ontario is purchased in four litre bags at $4.29/bag or $1.07/litre. Generally, except for the critics who are irresponsibly grandstanding in favour of free enterprise, there seems to be overwhelming support for high quality, safe and reliable Canadian milk by “middle class” consumers, according to a 2015 Environics survey.
Further to this, supply managed commodities in this country are priced according to a detailed, ongoing and responsible cost of production mechanism which is skewed toward the most efficient producers and therefore favours lower prices for consumers. They are not priced haphazardly according to what the market will bear, as many other products are.
The one aspect of business that seems to escape all of these critics (e.g. National Post editorialists, Conference Board of Canada, Fraser Institute, Maxime Bernier, etc.) is that every product produced whether agricultural or not, does have an average cost to produce it, which has to be covered. If this cannot be done by Canadians, we will eat more products produced elsewhere with all of the challenges that will follow this; e.g. food safety, food security, sustainability, economic activity, etc.
Mr. Trump constantly talks about trade issues which he thinks do not favour the U.S. He refers to “winners” and “losers” rather than fair trade. In spite of his ridiculous condemnations in Wisconsin of our dairy industry, the U.S. currently exports about four times more dairy products to Canada than we do to the U.S.
The resistance to our supply managed agricultural industries from dairy producing countries around the world when the mega free trade deals are being negotiated, is quite simply that many of these countries have abandoned their supply management systems and want to dump their low priced over production into our market. This would soon impoverish our producers and negatively effect our economy but would have very little positive effect on those farmers from other countries. In an effort to maintain their incomes in a lower priced market, they will continue to greatly over produce.
Our supply management system is designed to satisfy market requirements at a price which will allow the good producer to earn a reasonable income at a fair price to the consumer. Our farmers should not be expected to compete against product from elsewhere which has been irresponsibly produced. In addition, most of those same countries which object so vehemently to our system subsidize their own producers with tax dollars which does not happen in Canada.
Ontario has 3,727 dairy farmers and 72 processors. The dairy sector has grown 15 per cent over the past two years and it contributes billions of dollars to our economy, particularly in rural areas.
In addition, Ontario dairy farmers working with dairy sector partners produce and donate almost one million litres of fresh milk annually to food banks across Ontario.
Supply managed producers in Ontario and Canada because of the stability generated by this system, are some of the most efficient agricultural producers. They are proud to produce and provide some of the highest quality, safest and reliable food products in the world.
And in spite of recent criticism, they are all grateful that Canadian governments and consumers are very supportive of this strong and sustainable system. It works for consumers, for tax payers, for farmers and for our strong economy. Brian Griffith operates a farm in the Mount Hope area and has been active in the beef and dairy industries for 45 years.
Ben Loewith at his dairy farm. He and his Uncle Dave Loewith and father Carl of Joe Loewith and Sons Ltd., own the farm in Copetown. Industry expert Brian Griffith argues too many Canadians don’t understand how dairy supply management benefits the majority.