Liberals downplay concerns over record milk prices

Liberal cabinet ministers deflected concerns about soaring milk prices by saying they were focusing on other issues, such as housing and child care.

“Indeed, that is why we are working on affordability,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, when asked about the rising costs of dairy products.

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A survey published by Global News on Tuesday showed that a recent record increase in the price of milk paid to farmers would have been around 20% lower had the normal pricing method been used. The survey also revealed growing dissatisfaction among restaurant and retail groups over the way prices are set.

Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, echoed Trudeau’s comments when asked to comment on concerns about the rising price of milk.

“Affordability really matters,” Ng said. “And that’s why we’re very focused on affordable child care and why we’re very, very focused on affordable housing. But we were also clear: this government will protect the supply management sector.

Supply management is a government-controlled system that imposes quotas on the amount of milk producers can produce and guarantees a minimum price for all the milk they sell. The system imposes massive tariffs – some up to 300% – on imported dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt.

In October, the Canadian Dairy Commission, which is a crown corporation, announced that it would increase the price of milk to farmers by a record 8.4% next year. This is almost double the previous record.

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The commission said the increase is due to rising production costs, especially for animal feed.

“Producers deserve to be paid the right price. And I invite you to look at the increase in the cost of food in recent years, and you will see that they have never abused the system, ”said Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“The work the commission has done is fair, but having said that, I understand that the increase (in the cost of) food, and inflation in general, is very high. This is why we are making significant investments to support families with our child care program.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory, says politicians’ lack of concern over rising milk prices is nothing new.

“I have seen politicians talk about supply management without knowing exactly what it is,” he said Thursday.

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Charlebois is not opposed to the increase in the price of milk. He says the costs are increasing for everyone and it is reasonable for farmers to recover their costs.

But he has major concerns about how the commission is structured, including the fact that two of its three board members own dairy farms and the third has extensive experience in dairy processing.

“I think dairy farmers should be involved in the (commission), but at the moment only dairy farmers participate in the (commission),” he said.

The commission says it consults various groups of industry “stakeholders” whenever it changes the price of milk. This includes dairy farmers and processors, restaurants, retailers and consumers.

But restaurateurs and retailers say they are increasingly frustrated with this process and the lack of transparency about how final decisions are made.

“There is a lot of room for improvement,” said Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada.

Wasylyshen said the federal government should “review” the board’s price hike this year and consider changes to how the board operates, similar to what Charlebois is proposing.

“Who can oppose the need for representation, for transparency? she said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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