Supply Management and retail prices

The editorial by the Winnipeg Free Press (Eggs, Milk Cheap if Trade Free – November 22), makes a bizarre link between supply management and the retail price of related foods in Canada.

Supply management lets me receive a fair price for my chicken – but the price you pay at our local grocery store or restaurant isn’t controlled by me – or by any farmers. Retailers make that decision, taking into account factors such as what they need to stay in business and what they believe the market can bear.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, recently joked about how farmers get very little for the food they raise and yet waiters expect a 15% tip. That’s a big message.  While I agree that servers need to be tipped, how justifiable is it to give more money to the people who walk your food to the table than to those who actually make the food we eat?

It’s true: Canadians are feeling the pinch from the rising cost of food – so are farmers. Costs of production continue to rise, from heating and cooling to fuel and feed. We can’t operate without making significant investments – often in unstable input costs, such as fuel, equipment and other necessities. These are expenses over which we have no control.

The hard part is that supply management farmers have to do it with zero subsidies – none, zilch, nada. On the other hand, the United States and the European Union subsidize their farmers with billions of dollars. In Canada, your taxes subsidize non supply-managed food.   Not so with supply management – no subsidies here.

Look, we’re consumers, too; we’re taxpayers, too.  In fact, the 2,700 chicken farmers in a Canada purchase 2.5 million tonnes of feed; generate $2 billion in farm cash receipts; directly employ 6,750 Canadians; create an additional 24,500 indirect jobs; and pay $350
million in taxes.

When one partner in agriculture fails, we all suffer.  The loss of any farm – supply managed or not – can devastate rural communities. They’re like little eco-systems – when one element dies, it’s extremely difficult for the others to adapt and often, the whole thing perishes.  When a farm dies, everyone feels it, from the feed company to the equipment provider and to the local businesses that rely on every client they can get. Ultimately, it impacts everyone else, too.  We’re all interdependent and we have to support each other to survive.

Supply management isn’t to blame for food prices. Dismantling it won’t help anybody.  In countries where industries have been deregulated, farmers’ incomes have dropped substantially, while consumer prices have not followed suit.

There’s no “win-win” here.  If supply management is dismantled, we all lose.