EDITOR’S NOTE: Glenn Black is an artisanal chicken farmer and bed and breakfast owner based in Providence Bay. Mr. Black has been a long-time vocal opponent of the supply management system and has offered the following as a rebuttal to the March 1, 2017 editorial in support of supply management ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the milk quota.’
by Glenn Black
The March 1, 2017 editorial called for the continuation of Canada’s supply management (SM) system for the production of dairy, eggs, chicken and turkey. (‘Don’t throw the baby out with the milk quota, March 1, Page 4.)
The editorial’s logic and rhetoric were well written, likely persuading most readers to superficially accept this paper’s editorial proposal. Unfortunately, no objective evidence was presented. This letter to the editor will present the objective evidence, and attempt to draw the necessary conclusions, likely opposite to those proposed by the editorial.
From Confederation to the 1970s, Canadian farmers suffered under the unfair predatory business practices of large agri-food companies, both domestic and international, while opposing lobbyists fought for the hearts and minds of procrastinating politicians. After a growing number of unbearable crises, Bill C-176 was proposed as a solution, but it became the longest debated piece of legislation in the history of Canada. In the end, two all-night sessions of Parliament and a last minute amendment finally resulted in passing the bill at 6:40 am on December 31, 1971, creating supply management (SM). SM was designed to protect Canadian farmers from predatory business practices, and end boom and bust cycles.
This is where the unintended negative consequences of SM began. While SM was supposed to protect the small defenceless farmer, it has caused their destruction. At the start of SM in 1971, there were 113,008 Canadian dairy farms. Today, there are just 11,280 dairy farms that remain, so under SM’s impotent or incompetent reign, just 9.98 percent of our Canadian dairy farms survived. The rest went bankrupt, or were bought up by larger and larger factory farm corporations. For chicken, more than 88 percent of Canada’s chicken farms have disappeared under SM. The same sad tale can be told for farms producing eggs and turkeys.
Canadians are consistently price gouged by SM when compared to prices on world markets: 38% more for milk, 50 percent to 300 percent more for chicken, cheese and butter.
In December 2015, the Food Institute at the University of Guelph announced that food inflation in Canada is the highest in the world, topping 4.1 percent in 2015. It will be more of the same for the near future. For someone earning Ontario Minimum Wage between 1995 and 2005, the affordability of chicken dropped 31.7 percent. Since chicken has historically been the cheapest meat available, if you can’t afford chicken, you are forced to become a vegetarian.
SM was supposed to balance supply and demand, preventing boom and bust cycles. In spite of this, SM purposefully creates then destroys millions of litres of perfectly good skim milk rather than selling or donating it to foodbanks.
SM was supposed to provide safe, high quality food for Canadians. Quality of milk is usually measured by contamination of milk with bacteria, BTSCC (on-farm bulk tank somatic cell counts; ie. puss), and adulterants. Under the jaundiced eye of SM, when the Canadian milk quality standards were tightened in January 1992, the incidents of adulterated milk from improper antibiotic use significantly increased as Canadian dairy farmers tried to take the easy way out to meet the tougher quality standards. In 2011-2012, Canadian milk had 239,556 BTSCC, while US milk was 197,000 so US milk was 21 percent better than Canadian milk. For January to June 2015, the worst month for Canadian milk contamination was 13 times worse than the best month, contrary to SM’s bravado and propaganda about quality for Canadian consumers. Thank goodness all those hidden problems get pasteurized, so we only have the bad taste, and avoid most of the food poisoning that would otherwise result.
For SM chicken grown and sold in Canada, the University of Guelph, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Public Health Canada all report that 30 percent to 80 percent of retail raw chicken is significantly contaminated with deadly bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella, Heidelberg, lysteria, and others, and half of those bacteria are resistant to antibiotics (ie. Superbugs). The antibiotic resistance has been proven to be caused by illegal or inappropriate use of antibiotics by chicken hatcheries and huge factory farms operating under SM’s protection.
As compared to SM’s CAFO factory chicken sold in grocery stores, environmentally and animal welfare friendly grass pastured chicken contain 30 percent to 407 percent better vitamins, minerals, and healthier fats. SM’s chicken is a bland, inferior product with 50 percent more of the bad fats that hurt our health.
SM kills jobs and business opportunities. For example:
SM farmers haven’t kept pace with the more rapid improvements achieved by farmers in non-SM countries. Today, Canadian dairy farms are reported as having the 2nd worst efficiencies in the world. Canadian factory chicken farms are 25 percent worse than the world leaders for feed conversion efficiency. Sudden removal of the current SM life support system from our atrophied, uncompetitive SM farms would cause their immediate collapse. Canada’s SM farmers grabbed hold of the tiger’s tail in 1971, and have held on for dear life ever since, in spite of the dangers and wild ride towards their own destruction.
After New Zealand removed their dairy SM system in 2001, the NZ dairy system grew 17 times faster than the Canadian dairy system. This tells us that SM destroys Canada’s opportunity for more jobs, GDP, prosperity, and tax revenue for Canada and Canadians.
SM is an unfair government subsidy under WTO trade rules, so Canada is restricted from exporting, or face dumping charges and trade sanctions. That’s why for chicken, Canada has only 1.4 percent of the OECD chicken export market. If SM didn’t exist, and Canada regained its former competitive position, Canada could eventually grow our chicken production to five times its current size. That would mean more jobs, more markets for Canadian grains, and more taxes to support Canadian health care, social programs, and infrastructure projects.
If SM rules were relaxed to allow the market share for Ontario’s 16,000 small flock poultry farmers to climb from less than 1 percent to 10 percent, that could create up to 430,000 new jobs. Ontario currently has about 485,000 unemployed people.
SM holds us back and kills job creation so that a small special interest group can milk their monopoly for maximum profits through gouging of Canadian consumers.
Health Canada reports that 7.6 percent of Canadians can’t afford the food they need to feed their families. In the North, rural areas, and on First Nation reserves, 30 percent to 75 percent of families have food insecurity. For example, in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut a whole chicken sells for $80 to $90, 4 to 5 times the price paid in Toronto, making SM chicken unaffordable by most families.
Unaffordable food causes the Foodbank in Mindemoya to struggle under the growing demand; up 70 percent in the last three years. The 832 Christmas food hampers gifted to struggling Manitoulin families in 2016 was up 49 percent from the previous year.
Two thirds of Canadian deaths are caused or contributed to by poor diets or poor nutrition. Getting rid of SM will help make better, more nutritious foods available for all Canadians. Now is the time to get rid of SM, before we have food riots, mass starvation, or rising epidemics of bad health.
For too long, SM’s multi-millionaires and their talented, highly paid lobbyists have had a reserved place at the government’s feed trough. Politicians have fallen over each other to continuously refill that SM feed trough with the very best quality and quantity that taxpayers’ money could buy.
Canada’s Supply Management System for chicken, turkey, eggs, and dairy is a dysfunctional, inefficient, ineffective, and mediocre tyranny imposed on 35 million Canadians by just 17,000 farmers, their paid lobbyists, and political friends.
The 17,000 SM farmers who “own” the supply management system are all multi-millionaires. SM farms (dairy, chicken, turkey, eggs) are just 8 percent of all Canadian farms, but SM farmers are the best paid of all Canadian farmers, earning 21 percent more than non-SM farmers. They became multi-millionaires by stealing away the rights and freedoms of consumers and all other non-SM farmers.
I am a small flock poultry farmer (ie. I’m a non-quota, non-SM chicken farmer). The 60,000 or so small flock poultry farmers in Canada is one group that suffers under the despotic control of the SM system for chicken, so that 2,700 SM chicken farmers (just 4.3 percent of all chicken farmers in Canada) can rule the roost. I call it “chicken apartheid.”
Similarly sad statistics exist for the other three tentacles of the SM beast (ie. dairy, eggs, and turkey).
The longer the dysfunctional SM system is left in place, the worse it will likely get. Canada urgently needs a dramatic overhaul of our dysfunctional SM system, or its dismantling with an orderly transition period so as to help SM farms regain their former strengths and competitive capabilities.