BY LINDA BOSWELL
I’ve talked to many people about what is happening to the dairy industry, with the attack on supply management. A few things have become clear to me.
This first is the notion that getting rid of supply management would lower the cost of milk to the consumer. In fact, without supply management, milk might be cheaper for the processor and perhaps the retailer, but milk would not be cheaper for the consumer.
This has proved itself time and again – when beef prices collapsed because of BSE, prices to consumers barely moved while beef farms went bankrupt and farmers committed suicide. The same held true for the pork industry. I would also ask everyone to reflect on what products they can purchase in Canada, for the same price as they can in the U.S.A. Not a novel, not a car, not other food products.
As to Ms. Hall Findlay and her biased Canada West Foundation study, “Supply Management Myths Busted”, she says farmers have millions of dollars invested in their farms and are clearing $160,000 after expenses, while average individuals earn $51,700. I would like to ask Ms. Findlay when investing in a business became a bad thing and particularly when earning a return on that investment became a bad thing.
I think most businesses that have invested that heavily would expect a higher return than $160,000. Personally, I think they would be better of investing in the stock market. I would also like to ask Ms. Findlay if those earning $51,700 a year are working 10 to16 hour days. This is the reality of dairy farming where cows have to be milked at a minimum twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Cows and calves need to be fed every day, multiple times a day and barns need to be cleaned and equipment maintained. Forage needs to be planted and harvested, when the sun shines, which often necessitates incredibly long days. Another reality for dairy farmers, if they want a day off, they need to pay someone to take their place – there is no paid vacation days or sick time.
Ms. Findlay often refers to supply management as a cartel or a regime, but perhaps it can be thought of as a union, which protects the rights of dairy farmers to make a fair living – is she against unions too?
In my discussions, people often seem puzzled about why it’s a big deal to open the dairy market, after all what’s 2 percent here and 3 percent there. The reality is, in a little over a year, farmers have had nearly 10 percent of their income taken away, forever.
And so, I ask, if you were running a business and government came to you and said, we’re doing a deal and we need to take away 10 percent of your business. We’re doing it to help another business. You will never get that 10 percent back and there will be nothing in the deal to help your business. We say we will compensate you but probably not with actual money, more likely we will put money into a fund for innovation and you will have to come up with an equivalent amount in order to access the money. Would you agree to that?
I also hear from people who would like to support Canadian dairy farmers by buying Canadian dairy products. I think this is great and I thank them. The unfortunate thing is, the U.S. milk that will be coming into Canada will largely be an added ingredient in your cheese and ice cream and baked goods. Let me know if you see the price of these products fall, I won’t be holding my breath. As well, because it is an ingredient you won’t know when you are consuming U.S. milk and so, you won’t get to “vote with your wallet”.
One last thing to keep in mind; milk produced by Canadian dairy farmers is produced under a highly regulated system, which is in place to prevent antibiotics and hormones from entering the food system. U.S. milk is not produced to the same standards and many U.S. farmers use hormones to increase milk production. Maybe we will have to change the regulations in Canada so that Canadian farmers can produce milk on a level field. After all, milk is milk, right?
- Linda Boswell is a resident of Marshfield