What’s making Oxford County dairy farmers nervous is the aggressive quid-pro-quo stance taken in the U.S.
Are we ready to keep NAFTA only to trade away our managed marketplace for the no-holds-barred U.S. approach likely to overwhelm us?
If Canada agrees to accepting U.S. milk, we open our doors to a different milk and a gigantic amount of it.
After the Second World War, there were 500,000 dairy farms in Canada; in 2011 there were fewer than 13,000 (a 97 percent decline). There are reports that more than 40 farms in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana alone have 1,000 to 5,000 cows.
Yes, the actual milk in Canada is different from the milk in the U.S., as Canada has stricter regulations on the use of hormones and additives.
Although Canada is ahead of the U.S. in banning these hormones and antibiotics in milk, we are still behind Europe, where some EU countries like Denmark and Sweden ban all growth hormones and antibiotics from all human food.
American dairy income is a roller coaster of fluctuations between supply and demand.
This is no trivial matter. After all, Oxford County is called the Dairy Capital of Canada for a reason: Quality and production.
It’s not U.S. dairy farmers that want to export north, it’s multi-global agribusiness. And few want you to know where their products come from. Check your labels: Packaged in Canada isn’t disclosing the product’s origins.
At about $20 billion a year, total spending on agricultural subsidies is a relatively small part of the overall U.S. federal budget. Agriculture subsidies have promoted rapid advances in productivity by encouraging the development and adoption of modern farming methods and materials by farmers who may not have been willing to take the financial risk otherwise.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon and Alexandre Moreau, writing for the Montreal Economic Institute in the Globe and Mail recently continue to push their agenda of getting rid of supply management, but this time with a new twist.
“Why should both countries,” they say, “not settle the matter by agreeing to exchange the opening of one market for the opening of the other?”
They quote Australian “success” in dismantling supply management but ignore the fact that Australia is not a neighbour to an economy 10 times greater than their own as we are with the United States which could easily overwhelm our dairy industry with overproduction.
Others, like farm organizations, argue that supply management provides a stable market for producers, processors and retailers to work together, resulting in consumers having access to high-quality, affordable dairy products every day.
What is the real solution?
You will hear a lot of so-called expert opinion on the matter. The real solution is a knowledgeable consumer who knows enough to support local and Canadian agricultural products in season and understands the favourable economic outcomes that result.
Canadians and Americans alike are largely unaware of what their own governments spend on farmers, and what it costs them at the grocery store. Most Canadians have never heard, much less understood, anything about supply management. On this side of the rhetoric, we need to understand it better.
It may just be about our own health and well-being.
Michael Harding is a two-term mayor of Woodstock and an Oxford County councillor.