Supply Management is a Critical Component to a Robust Animal Welfare Regime
Protection of Canada’s supply management system has been the subject of great debate throughout recent NAFTA talks. The merits of the system have been argued by the various Canadian livestock sectors and government in an effort to defend and hopefully protect the system. One beneficial element of the system that is not being adequately considered or discussed, in my opinion, is the role supply management plays and / or has the potential to play in relation to animal welfare. If we lose the supply management system, we risk losing possibly the greatest tool available to effectively respond to increased animal welfare demands.
Some people will flippantly call for changes to animal welfare standards, while also being unwilling to pay higher food prices as a result of these changes. From time-to-time, Canada’s Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals will reflect public demands for change. By ensuring that livestock farmers are guaranteed a certain price for its products, through supply management, these changes to the Codes of Practice are not necessarily devastating to farmers’ bottom line – prices paid to farmers can be adjusted to account for increased costs of production, such as those necessary to implement changes to animal welfare standards.
Without supply management, farmers will most likely bear the brunt of costs associated with improved (or perceived to be improved) animal welfare standards. In such a scenario, more costly production methods may not be feasible to implement – thus undermining efforts to improve animal welfare. With supply management, these costs can ultimately be borne by a public that has collectively called for changes – thus making it much more feasible to implement changes. Such a passing-off of costs will also have the ancillary effect of testing the public’s resolve in demanding any particular changes to production methods.
The current federal government, and some MPs in particular, like to claim that they are the most ardent animal rights advocates. Let us see if they are as passionate about animal welfare when it comes time to defend the supply management system during the current NAFTA negotiations.