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Dairy farmers need to push back against critics

Canada’s 12,500 dairy farmers should be boasting about supply management and touting its benefits for consumers, says Wally Smith, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

The B.C. dairyman took shots at supply management critics, economists, and Liberal leadership aspirants “who don’t bother to look beyond the Canadian border to see what deregulation in agriculture causes.”

If they did, they would see suffering around the world,” Smith told attendees at his group’s annual policy conference.

Dairy farmers in California and parts of the U.S. northeast are struggling to save their farms, while Australian milk producers are protesting prices that don’t cover their cost of production, he said.

“In Canada, we are attacked for a system that works so well for farmers, consumers and governments,” he added. “It gets a fair compensation for farmers from the market.”

Compare that to the situation faced by Canadian hog farmers, he said.

“You never hear the pundits talk about the stress in the pork sector. No, we get blamed for high prices.”

Supply management is blamed for stalling free trade deals with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but anyone familiar with the talks know there other economic issues at stake, he said.

Canada and the European officials have been meeting intensively in recent weeks to strike a deal that Ottawa and Brussels can accept. Increased access for French cheese and Canadian beef and pork are among the touchy issues yet to be resolved.

Smith said the European talks have highlighted the importance of maintaining high tariffs to protect dairy farmers against heavily subsidized milk and poultry imports. He said Canada has to move faster to shut the door on designer products that exist only to circumvent the tariff rules.

Many conference delegates arrived in Ottawa two days before the meeting to lobby government ministers and MPs. Smith noted Prime Minister Stephen Harper twice reiterated his government’s support for supply management in question period on Feb. 5 and said he expects that support to continue.

Dairy farmers also need to talk up how their sector was a leader in the development and adoption of a code of practice for humane livestock rearing, Smith said.

“We are responding to society’s demands that we take good care of our livestock, produce safe food and protect the environment,” he said.

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