We need a re­li­able dairy in­dus­try

We want a safe prod­uct and we don’t want to be de­pen­dent on for­eign sources

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BRIAN GRIFFITH

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.

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