Dairy producers right to be miffed over new Canada Food Guide

How did milk manage to find its way into the crosshairs of Health Canada’s dietary guardians? For generations, untold milk and dairy products have been in the forefront of a healthy diet, especially for growing children and doctors still overwhelmingly recommend that drinking milk plays a significant role in a healthy lifestyle. Dairy producers have every justification to be miffed by the snub contained in the recently released new Canada Food Guide where milk and dairy have been removed as one of the four major food groups.

Somehow, it seems, that every time the federal government negotiates a new trade deal to open up foreign markets for Canadian products, it is the Canadian dairy producer who winds up paying the piper.

Certainly supply management—which to generations of Americans schooled in the evils of socialism/communism is equated with fascism and dictatorship and an unfettered attack on life, liberty and the American dream—has long been a favoured target of US politicians who, for the most part, rarely set foot on a dairy farm unless farmers are a significant part of their district’s electorate and an election looms large on the horizon.

American dairy farmers themselves, if the fine folks in Wisconsin are to be believed, have little or no problem with our supply management system. As prisoners of their own system, where it is the dairies who call all the shots and encourage overproduction to the point that milk prices frequently drop below the cost of production, many US dairy farmers look with envy on the stability that the Canadian supply management system provides.

It is long past time that Canadians, and by extension our governments, recognize that the value of dairy producers, and farmers in general, lies far above their political weight at the ballot box (except perhaps in Quebec, where the industry is a political powerhouse compared to other regions of the country).

With escalating agricultural land costs (largely the result of speculation by hedge funds and well funded auto parts magnates) putting a career in farming more and more out of reach of young farmers and placing increasing burdens on existing family farms, we ignore the decline in the family farm at our peril.

It seems so utterly counterintuitive that, with the ‘eat local’ movements growing by leaps and bounds, particularly in urban centres, that the small family farm operations these movements depend on and hold up as positive agricultural reference points should be so very much under the gun.

Canadian dairy farmers are among the most technologically advanced agriculturalists in the world and they understand the importance of science-based best practices; they simply cannot afford not to be in the forefront of their industry. To have their industry hamstrung by government policies that are not well supported by science and research must be incredibly galling.

The ruling federal Liberals have long sought to shore up their vulnerable flanks in rural ridings, and they certainly provide copious quantities of soothing words and noble proclamations, but actions, especially in politics, speak far louder that words. By that measure the record so far this term will not move rural polls in a positive direction.

This is something to which the current party in Ottawa would be well advised to give more consideration in this election year and in general.

While there might be fewer people living (or making their living) on farms these days, most of those of us living in a rural region are likely to be related to or know well a farmer of some kind. Even urban ridings, thanks to youth outmigration over the past several generations, contain a significant number of people living in suburban townhouses who would readily identify themselves as “rural.”