Supply management support needed in face of opposition

RED DEER — A “recovering dairy farmer” and the former chair of Alberta Milk says supply management must be protected for the good of the dairy industry.

Bruce Beattie was a keynote speaker at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar March 8 and he noted that supply management has been under attack from various quarters since the 1970s.

Beattie is in a good position to reflect on the Alberta’s dairy industry, having recently compiled its history in co-operation with former University of Alberta agriculture department chair John Kennelly and Alberta Milk general manager Mike Southwood.

“If you look around the world and see all the other countries that have lost their system of orderly marketing and the impact that’s had on the producer, and there’s been no measurable improvement to the price for the consumer,” Beattie told about 700 people at the seminar.

Though factions such as the Fraser Institute claim consumer prices for dairy products would drop if supply management ended, Beattie said he disagrees.

“I think we have shown that that’s not the case and if the producers remain united and continue to be involved with their boards, that you’ll be able to continue supply management.”

He noted the system allows dairy producers to extract income from the marketplace without reliance on government subsidies.

Nevertheless, producers in the audience had concerns about the future of the marketing system.

“Does our government have enough backbone,” asked one.

Beattie said Alberta’s NDP government supports supply management and the provincial marketing council, which he now chairs, oversees the sectors that operate in that system.

On the national level, the picture is less clear but there has always been a strong lobby for continuation of orderly marketing.

“We still have our brethren in Quebec that are strong supporters. We’ve relied on them for years in terms of political process.”

Beattie noted it will be important for supply management supporters to obtain trade information when any international deals are being made.

He wondered about the adequacy of the $350 million made available to the Canadian dairy industry after concessions in the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe.

“A short-term payout is not a solution to a long-term stable industry,” said Beattie. “To me, that’s not a solution. To me, a solution is sticking by a system that brings positive results for everybody.”

Another producer asked Beattie how the industry could best garner support for supply management.

Beattie said it will likely require allies.

“I think it’s more important, most important, to educate your political contacts, to make sure that they understand it,” he said.

Additional allies in the agricultural industry would also be helpful.

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