Why I like supply management

I know its been a little while since I posted a “real” post.  I’ve been busily changing the appearance and some of the functionality of the blog….hope it makes the info more accessible to anyone who is interested. 

Over the past few days/weeks, there has been a LOT of attention paid to the supply management system.  It’s in the news a lot….people discussing whether our government should work to defend this “cartel” when making new Pan-Pacific trade agreements.   Opponents cry that the “protectionist” system is causing all of us to pay too much for eggs, milk, chicken, grains and turkey.  Plus, it may jeopardize trade agreements that will be important for all sorts of sectors. 

They might be right.  Hell….I don’t know.  I am neither politician, economist or negotiator (my wife can vouch for ALL 3 of these….and she does….often).  Do the marketing boards and tariffs make domestic food more expensive than they need to be?  It seems like they must.  They control supply, and thus decrease competition, reduce imports, and lower price efficiencies. 

The amount of increase is the question that I can’t get my head around.  One thing I do know is that food freedom day this year was Feb 12.  Food freedom day is the day that the average Canadian has earned enough to buy all the food we need for the year.  That’s 43 days, or 10% of our income.  That put us 5th in the world for paying the least per capita for food in 2010, according to National Geographic and Euromonitor.   We pay less for food than Australians, Japanese, Finns, Mexicans, Chinese, the French, the list goes on.  Sure….a big part of that is because we make a lot of money in Canada, but we also have relatively cheap food.  When our dietary staples (milk, cheese, eggs and bread) are all supply managed, I can never see how the system is hurting the public very much.

Let me tell you a little about what I do know about.  In Ontario, the average egg farm has  24, 0oo hens.  In the US, average egg production company size is measured in the millions of hens.  A flock size of 24,ooo hens is considered a hobby farm, and producers laugh at our puny operations….literally….  In Ontario, family farms still make up the vast majority of production.  By this, I mean that when I show up on a farm, either the farm owner, his wife, his kids or all of the above will be in the barn.  When I worked in the US (admittedly only for 6 months), I NEVER met a farm owner in a barn.  I met managers in barns, and I met owners in offices. 

The system we have in Ontario has a much better food safety record than our bigger brothers down south.  The animal welfare on our farms is also noticeably better.  There are good farms in the states too, but when the income per hen is so much lower, investing in new equipment, extra labour, or better systems is economic suicide.  When the egg farmers make a good living, they can (and do) afford to provide their hens with the best systems available.  I have NO qualms about stating  we look after our hens better than they do in the US.  We can afford to.  Because of supply management.   That’s why I like it.  Supply management results in better care for the hens.  Full Stop.

Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  I have no idea of the implications across other sectors.  My personal prediction is that if supply management is dismantled, and the US is allowed to ship eggs into Canada, there will be one, two, or at most three, egg farms in Ontario.  They will consist of millions of hens, each barely making any profit, and getting re-investment at the same rate.  Will eggs be cheaper….yep, but not a lot.

Mike the Chicken Vet

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