Liberal cabinet ministers shrugged off concerns about rising milk prices, saying they were focusing on other issues such as housing and child care.
“Actually, that’s why we’re working on affordability,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday when asked about the rising cost of dairy.
An investigation published Tuesday by Granthshala News showed that the recent record-breaking increase in the price of milk supplied to farmers would have been nearly 20 percent less if the common method was used to set prices. The investigation also found growing discontent between restaurants and retail groups over how prices are set.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng echoed Trudeau’s remarks when asked to comment on concerns about rising milk prices.
“Affordability really matters,” Ng said. “And that’s why we’re so focused on affordable childcare as well as why we’re so focused on affordable housing. But we’ve also made it clear: This government is going to protect the supply management sector. Is.”
Supply management is a government-controlled system that imposes quotas on how much milk farmers can produce and guarantees a minimum price for all milk they sell. The system imposes massive tariffs on imported dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt – some up to 300 percent.
In October, the Canadian Dairy Commission, a Crown corporation, announced it was increasing the price farmers paid for milk next year by a record-breaking 8.4 percent. This is almost double the previous record.
The commission said the increase is due to increase in production cost, especially for animal feed.
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“Manufacturers should be paid a fair price. And I would invite you to look at the increase in the cost of food in recent years, and you will see that they have never abused this system,” Agriculture Minister Marie- Claude Bibeau said.
“The work that the commission has done is fair, but having said that, I understand that the rise (price) of food and inflation in general is very high. This is why we help families through our childcare program There are significant ways to invest.”
Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, says politicians’ lack of concern about rising milk prices is nothing new.
“I’ve seen politicians talk about supply management without knowing what it really was,” he said on Thursday.
Charlebois is not against raising the price of milk. He says the cost is rising for all and it is only fair that the farmers will recover their cost.
But he has major concerns about how the commission is structured, including the fact that two of its three board members have dairy farms and a third have extensive backgrounds in dairy processing.
“I think dairy farmers should be involved with (the commission), but right now it is (commission) associated dairy farmers,” he said.
The commission says it consults various industry “stakeholder” groups whenever it changes the price of milk. This includes dairy farmers and processors, restaurants, retailers and consumers.
But restaurants and retailers say they have been disappointed by the process and the lack of transparency about how final decisions are made.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” said Michelle Vasilishen, national spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada.
Vasilishen said the federal government should “revise” commission prices this year and consider changes to the way the commission operates, similar to Charlebois’s proposal.
“Who can argue against the need for representation, transparency?” he said.