Lack of supply management knowledge is worrisome finding

If there was even a tiny doubt about whether Canadians really don’t know where their food comes, a new poll from Angus Reid just quashed it.

The polling firm asked 1,512 Canadians ahead of the pending North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation whether they would be open to a federal concession around supply management. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Nearly half (45 percent) said they would consider using it as bartering chip — but only as “last resort.” Another 29 percent said they were willing to risk retaliation from the American administration to protect the quota-based farming system, while the remaining 26 percent said the system should be scrapped altogether.

“If concessions are demanded at the negotiation table, most Canadians seem quite comfortable with the idea of at least talking about scrapping the system,” the poll said.

So what does this have to do with Canadians knowing where their food comes from?

Angus Reid wanted to know whether those polled knew how Canada’s supply management system works, so it asked respondents to rank their knowledge.

The result? An overwhelming majority said they knew little to nothing about the system.

Only a measly four percent said they thought they knew a lot about the system. More than 50 percent of respondents in every Canadian province said they knew nothing about it.

In Western Canada, 69 percent of the Manitobans surveyed said they had no clue how supply management worked. Alberta (58 percent) and Saskatchewan (53 percent) didn’t fare much better.

The numbers didn’t improve much in Canada’s supply management heartlands, either.

In Ontario, a staggering 60 percent of respondents said they knew nothing about Canada’s supply management system, while in the dairy-rich province of Quebec, 55 percent said they had no idea how it worked.

In 2016, 82 percent of Canada’s milk production was concentrated in those two provinces.

Angus Reid also found Canadians have no idea what food products were supply managed commodities — with the exception of milk.

Fifty-one percent of those polled correctly identified milk as a supply managed food. Another 41 percent listed eggs while only 35 percent singled out cheese.

However, 42 percent thought beef was a supply managed commodity with another 33 percent suggesting pork was, too. (They’re not.)

Poultry didn’t even make the top five, despite being a supply managed commodity.

Even more concerning, of the four percent who said they did know a lot about supply management, one in three listed beef and pork as goods produced using the policy.

It’s easy to dismiss the Angus Reid findings by arguing that Canadians don’t know what they’re talking about and we should leave it up to the experts who do.

That’s a narrow view and risks ignoring the larger problem: when it comes to agriculture, people simply don’t have a clue.

These individuals might someday decide to run for public office. Some may sit as elected officials now, who are facing pressures from constituents without agricultural ties.

It’s likely some may hold influential positions in Canadian businesses and think-tanks or work for various levels of governments, while others are raising the next generation of consumers.

Canada’s agriculture ministers and the industry have made public awareness a priority under the agricultural policy framework.

Open farm days are becoming the norm. Public awareness campaigns are becoming increasingly more common. Even lobbyists on Parliament Hill are starting to adjust their pitches so that MPs with no familiarity with the file can follow the conversation.

Reversing the trend-line won’t be easy. It will take hard work, patience, flexibility, open-mindedness and creativity from all involved.

The status quo is no longer an option.

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