Monday, 25 June 2012

A Confession of Sorts

We all have our obsessions, our quirks, the things that make us different.  For some reason I've always been interested in the makers of things, the producers. I can remember at a high school dance (back in the early'60's) and a local DJ had records to give away and was asking not who sang various songs, but who wrote them, and I was the only person who knew. For me Motown was Holland, Dozier, and Holland, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson not the Supremes or the Jackson Five. I'm that irritating person in the movie theatre who sits through the credits because I want to know who was the writer.  And it obviously extends to my interest in farmers and fishermen, the primary producers of food.

There's a fancy new word being used by marketing types: value chain, and it's an important idea. The people who control food processing and retailing, are consummate middle people, what I like to call margin and volume folks. As long as they can sell at a price higher than what they paid, they're making money, the bigger the margin, and especially the bigger the volume, the more they make. (Don't forget that the biggest corporation in the world Walmart, DOESN'T PRODUCE ANYTHING, it buys in huge volume, and sells for more, period, and has been able to squeeze producers to the bone) The problem with this model is that there's lots of incentive to make the final retail price as cheap as possible to generate sales, but by the time the various middle people have taken their cut, the price received by the primary producer bears no resemblance to its cost of production.  "Value chain" is designed to ensure the producer also gets a fair price (while guaranteeing high quality etc).

Fair pricing for farmers that actually covers costs is certainly at the heart of  supply management (not this again Petrie).  You will continue to read in our favourite newspapers that dairy, egg, and poultry farmers are paid too much.  In fact the price reflects the costs of the most efficient producers, and quota value can't be included in the cost of production.  One other thing you won't be reading in the newspaper, that Canadians actually pay less for fluid milk than consumers in New Zealand, the big dairy exporting country. Milk is more expensive here than in the United States, but don't forget about the widespread use of Monsanto's growth hormone rBGH there to increase production, something that isn't allowed in Canada. In some of the states like Vermont that promote hormone free milk production, prices are comparable or more expensive than in Canada. 

That's the thing about only looking  at the export market or the "world price". It's usually the cheapest price going, but doesn't in any way reflect the possible shortcuts taken by producers, or processors to get it. Don't forget the Chinese dairy scandal when melamine was added to infant formula to increase protein levels. Six children died and hundreds more were made sick.  It's just not a story you'll hear in Canada.

So make sure when you're reading all the vitriol against supply management that you're getting the full story, that you know who wrote the song, not just who sings it.  

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