Monday, January 27, 2014

NFU and Supply Management

National Farmers Union ("NFU") claims to be one of the instigators of Canada's Supply Management System.  In this Blog posting, we will examine NFU's historic role, and its current position on  Supply Management.  We need to answer the question:
When NFU helped create Canada's Supply Management System for agricultural products, did it achieve the intended results, or did NFU help create a Frankenstein monster that attacks and systematically destroys the family farms and affordable food sovereignity that NFU wants to cherish and protect?
NFU's Proud History & Beginnings
 Farmer activism has a long history of fighting against governments' laissez-faire inaction, regulatory capture by special interest businesses, and big business acting on their selfish interests to the detriment of farmers; all of which resulted in monopolistic predatory actions and unfair treatment of farmers.  Farm grievances finally boiled over, and on Dec. 18, 1901 a general farmers' meeting was called in Indian Head (which became part of Saskatchawan when the territory joined Canada in 1905), which resulted in the formation of the Territorial Grain Growers Association (TGGA).

Farmers should be used to fighting for their rights and the greater good of all Canadians.  It's interesting to note that back in 1902, farmers could order a rail car for their grain under the "Car Order Book"  provision of the Manitoba Grain Act so that farmers could privately sell and ship their grain to market.  In 1902, CPR refused to honor this Act, so the Sintaluta farmers sued CPR, which finally reached the Supreme Court of Canada, where the Supreme Court ruled in the farmer's favor, enshrining farmer's rights and the Car Order Book.  Again, in 1978, the railways couldn't ship the farmer's grain, claiming a shortage of rail cars.  NFU launched "Sky Spy" (see page 11), located the "missing" railcars sitting idle on remote railway sidings, thereby embarrassing the railways into repairing 2,000 boxcars so the farmers could again ship their grain.

Note that in 2014, we have a similar situation with Canada unable to export our grains to eager international customers, all while the 2013 bumper crop of 20 Million tonnes slowly spoils at landlocked elevators and farm storage bins. Nothing new under the sun, eh?

While these examples are not directly related to poultry and Supply Management (which are the purpose of this Blog), it shows that NFU and its members have a long history of being willing to act to fix grievances and right obvious wrongs, in spite of the costs and inconveniences.

NFU and Supply Management
An individual farmer was regularly pitted against his neighbour, or farmers in other Provinces by the large grain dealers, millers, railways, and others; and therefore virtually powerless against these powerful and well connected forces.  Farmers had to organize, take a stand, and present a united front against these powerful forces.

The concept of orderly marketing of grain was, as early as 1907, being advanced by Edward A. Partridge, one of the founders of TGGA.

Once NFU was able to make some headway with grains, the core idea of "orderly markets" spilled over to other feast and famine farm products.  Five Canada-wide organizations representing producers of commodities under supply management were subsequently formed: Dairy Farmers of Canada (1934), Canadian Egg Marketing Agency (1972), Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency (1973), Chicken Farmers of Canada (1978), and Canadian Broiler Hatching Egg Marketing Agency (1986).

Perhaps these Supply Management organizations were the best possible solution at that time.  That is a complex historical question that I am unwilling and unable to fully explore, so I'm willing to give the benefit of doubt to NFU, government, and those farmers who worked tirelessly to survive and develop something to help farmers at that time.

The more important questions for today are:
  1. Has Supply Management slowly evolved from its 1907 root, and wandered onto a path in 2014 that is no longer optimum, useful, or effective for farmers and/or Canadians?
  2. Can Supply Management as it exists in 2014 be significantly improved?
  3. Rather than the current Supply Management system in Canada, is there a better way to achieve stability, reasonable income for farmers, food sovereignty, food security, and affordable food for Canadians?
 Where does NFU stand  on answering these important 3 questions?  Let's take a look.

NFU's Statement of Purpose
 I have in my possession a tri-fold pamphlet NFU Statement of Purpose that was circulated in January 2008 to prospective new members of NFU.  Today, I cannot find this document on NFU's website, however this pamphlet appears to be based on the NFU Statement of Purpose adopted by NFU's Founding Convention in 1969 (see this reference).

In the preamble, NFU states:

"...we are learning that as farmers we hold a common stake in the welfare of one another and our nation."

So far, so good.  NFU seems to recognize and support the concept of "the greater good", and that farmers will win by considering the needs and expectations of Canada and its people, rather than focusing on just what is best for farmers.

"...We are learning that the pursuit of individual self interest leads inevitably to self-destruction..."

SFPFC again supports NFU in this enlightened statement.  Farmers don't exist in a vacuum.  They have customers, Canadian citizens and the rest of the world, who must be considered and appropriately served.

"...We are learning that the society in which we live and toil is exploitive in nature and the power of abundance we possess is widely subjected to economic exploitation to our disadvantage...."

Couldn't have said it better.  It's basically the same age-old problem since the dawn of humans as a separate species.  Unfortunately, it seems that it's far worse in 2014 than in the early 1900's when the seeds of NFU were first germinating.  If the problems were bad enough to create TGGA in 1901, then NFU in 1969, I must ask if it's any wonder that these same forces led to the forming of SFPFC in 2013?

"...The common hope and aspiration of us all is that the creative power farmers possess may be a blessing to all mankind and not a curse. It is our hope and aspiration that our families may live in dignity and prosperity - that we may, as farmers, live in harmony with one another and that all the world's people may live in peace and brotherhood...."
Wow!  That is some lofty purpose.  After reading that, some of you may feel like joining hands and singing Kum ba yah.  SFPFC supports this long term goal, even though we'll likely have to wait for the Rapture before we achieve it.
"Purpose #1
Solving problems created in a technological age.  We must address ourselves to the solving of human problems created in a technological age. Our capacities for food production are functioning at less than maximum, while malnutrition and poverty continue to prevail in large sectors of the Canadian population and in much of the world...."
Farming and farmers used to be relf-reliant and self-sufficient.  Once a farmer had his first sack of seeds to plant his crops, he saved part of this year's crop as seeds for next year.  Same for manure to fertilize those future crops.  Today, the farmer has to deal with chemical fertilizers, new tractors, and seeds that cannot be saved.  The modern farmer is almost totally dependent upon all of these outside forces who exercise their powers against farmers (and all citizens who rely on farmers) to their selfish ends.  What was true in 1969, is even worse today.  See our Blog posting Health Consequences of Food Monopolies.  NFU rightfully warned all of us in 1969, yet we don't seem to have listened to these warnings.  Did NFU and its membership heed their own warnings?

Perhaps things would have been much worse if NFU hadn't been there all this time.  Perhaps it was a losing battle from the beginning.  However, it seems like some farmers, and some actions of NFU allow these dark forces to exist and flourish, and in some ways, NFU has gone over to the other side through some type of rationalization.  Perhaps they have slowly learned to switch sides, rather than to fight on against these powerful forces.

"...Forecasts indicate a doubling of world population by the year 2000, while millions of the world's people daily live in hunger. We bear the burden of a productive ability in food supply that is an embarrassment to our nation. The moral obligation felt by farm people in developing a distribution system for food that can offset the growing threat of world hunger and poverty must be shared by all Canadians. We must, as a nation, overcome the narrower consideration of world economics and political shortcomings in order that food may be used as an effective weapon for the relief of human suffering and establishment of world peace...."
Is NFU being two-faced in its policy of affordable
food while supporting Supply Management,
which charges Canadians up to 318% more than
internationally available prices?
In 1969, world population was 3.616 Billion.  By Year 2000, it reached 6.127 Billion, which was 84.7% of the doubling predicted by NFU in 1969.  It is expected that the doubling of population from 1969 will be achieved in 2014; 14 years later than originally predicted.  Still geometric explosion of populations is a huge danger, and totally unsustainable.  While hunger is still a big problem, today there are more obese persons than under nourished; a large part of this problem created by good nutritious foods being unaffordable.

SFPFC agrees with what NFU states here, but do NFU's actions adequately align and support this Purpose #1 defined by NFU back in 1969?  Has NFU abandoned this Purpose #1 and moved on to other more pragmatic issues to the self-interest of its farming constituency?

For example, Health Canada reports that 7.6% of Canadian families can't afford the food they need to feed their families.  In spite of this fact, NFU supports Supply Management for chicken in Canada, which consistently charges Canadians 3 times more for chicken than international prices; thereby exasperating a desperate situation.  How does NFU explain (and hopefully resolve) this apparently two-faced, contradiction in NFU policies?

Purpose #2   Maintaining a strong rural community
We believe in the maintenance of a strong rural community in Canada as an essential part of our national culture and that farmers must continue to hold a distinct place in the national identity as the basic producers of food. The ability to produce foodstuffs in mass quantity is increasingly resulting in the encroachment into the production area by corporate structures possessing market control. The competitive forces of integrated food production industries can, we believe, in stages destroy the principles of farm production, based on the individual management, ownership and/or control of productive resources by farm people. The production of food must be considered as serving the national interest of Canada. It is the product of the soil, which is a great natural resource. The primary production of food is the largest of our national industries, still within the realm of Canadian economic and political control. We believe it must remain Canadian. It is in the best interest of our nation to maintain a sound rural community on the strength of an efficient and economic farming industry, broadly based ownership and/or control by farm families of the basic resources for food production.
This Blog has shown the growing concentration of farming, chicken producers, poultry feed mills, and turkey producers, and the loss of young farmers.  All of this has happened during the existence of NFU and its predecessors.  Did they take adequate steps to sound the alarm, to rally the troups, to lobby government, to block the moves of this corporate slime as it slowly oozed over farms and agricultural production capacity?

Statistics Canada data previously discussed in this Blog shows that 98.94% of Canada's chicken farms have disappeared since1921.  Most of that loss has occurred while NFU was on the scene.  The same can be said for turkey farms, dairy farms, and egg producers.  How does NFU explain this decimation of family farms in spite of their Purpose #2?  Does NFU's ongoing support of Supply Management made that better, or worse?  Just how much worse could it have been?  SFPFC therefore suggests that NFU was asleep at the switch, or incompetent in its implementation of Purpose #2.

 UWO Professor David Sparling has recently reported that just 2,500 mega farms in Canada produce 28% of all agriculture production.  This is a huge increase in concentration, facilitated by a rapid loss of family farms, mergers and acquisitions of one farmer buying out his neighbours.  The even riskier cause are soul-less corporations buying into agriculture as a monopolistic, protected, high leverage market; for everybody has to eat, every day.  There is a huge future risk of even worse tyranny and oppressive actions using the control and availability of food as a weapon against the people.

If NFU was slowly losing the battle on their Purpose #2, did they adequately warn both the government and Canadians of this important fact, and ask for their help?  Was it done so that both of these groups could adequately hear and respond in time?  Here we are at the eleventh hour, holding on my our finger nails.  Could more have been done if we had started earlier and worked harder? It's hard to know for sure.

"Purpose #3   Organizing farmers
We live in an organized society. Organization implies discipline of action among the members of a group in society who share common interests and goals. Such discipline is widely exercised to the disadvantage of farmers in commerce and trade through the existence of a managed market system and an administered price structure by the corporate industrial complex, both in terms of the goods and services purchased by farmers and in the sale of farm products. As a result of the total control over the terms and conditions of trade vested in the corporate sector, vast inefficiencies exist within it, including duplication of services, under-utilization of plants and facilities and technical obsolescence, which force upon farmers demands for even greater efficiencies of production and narrowing margins of return. As individuals, farmers can exert no real influence in the market place. As individuals, farmers often disadvantage and exploit one another. Farmers must organize and bargain collectively as farmers to bring about the degree of discipline and organization necessary to make them an effective countervailing force in our society...."
It is interesting that NFU complains about organizations that act against the interests of farmers, then turns around and promotes and justifies its existence as a farming organization.  Fight fire with fire?  NFU complains and warns about organizations that control price and terms throughout the food distribution system, which is the definition of Supply Management and the Supply Management Mafia which SFPFC complains against too.  Are we aligned here, between NFU and SFPFC, or does NFU speak of something else?

To SFPFC, NFU and farmers are no longer countervailing forces against the controlling multi-nationals who control everything.  NFU and farmers have been absorbed by the corporations, turned into a pawn of the corporations, and currently do their bidding.  NFU and farmers are used as a screen behind which the corporations receive succor and support, and hide from the wrath of the public for what they continue to do to all Canadians.  How and why does the NFU and farmers shield and protect the enemy of all?

"Purpose #4   Strengthening farm bargaining power
No force in our society can match the power possessed collectively by farmers. Food production is an absolute essential. Farmers are entitled to a fair return on their labors and investment. Action follows organization. Farmers must learn to live with one another rather than off one another. Through mutual cooperation and collective action, farmers can exercise the bargaining power than comes with organization."
If the collective power of farmers is truly supreme, why are we in the mess we are today?  SFPFC agrees that NFU and farmers could be a powerful force, but so far, they have not effectively harnessed those powers against the dark forces of corporatism that has taken over farming and food in Canada.  Has that occurred due to a sell-out or treason of NFU's stated purpose?

It seems that many non-Supply Management sectors of farming complain against the actions of their SM brothers.  SFPFC, grain farmers, pork farmers, are but a few who complain against SM actions.  SM seems to think they are the tail that gets to wag the agricultural dog.

NFU states that they represent all commodities and sectors of farming.  Has NFU listened to these dissenting voices against the SM system?  Have the dissenters brought complaints and suggestions to the attention of NFU's Regional Councils, who have a duty under NFU's By-laws, to listen, consider, and respond?

 "Purpose #5   Promoting farm policies
Government holds a heavy responsibility toward determining the structure of food production in this nation by the philosophical approach reflected through legislation and public policy. Farmers must exert every legitimate means of assisting our legislators in providing legislation that can assure farmers of equity and the survival of a flourishing rural community in Canada. The rationalization, development and promotion of sound farm policies by farmers upon governments is essential to the future welfare of farming.

SFPFC supports NFU's Purpose #5, provided that these farming issues are subservient to the needs and greater good of all Canadians.  That means that adequate supplies of safe, affordable, sustainable, and nutritious food for Canadians comes first and foremost.  Is NFU in agreement with this proviso?  If not, why not?

If NFU is in agreement with this pre-condition, then why does NFU give a blanket, unequivocal support of Supply Management?  How does NFU justify this?

I will be sending a link to this posting for all the NFU groups.  I welcome NFU members to explain their personal position, to encourage NFU officers to respond to these questions, and I hereby welcome NFU executives to explain and clarify NFU's position on these important issues. I irrevocably commit SFPFC's Blog to post NFU's response on this posting, so everybody can contrast and compare SFPFC and NFU positions on these issues.


  1. Yes, indeed.

    Supply management has succumbed to unbridled greed and fear. Who needs that?

    1. Thanks for posting.

      Those two vices, greed & fear, have been with humans for a long, long time. I don't we can get rid of them any time soon. While they will continue to exist, we can put in place systems to minimize their impact, detect them early, and have a support network for each other so that our natural impulses are suppressed to a minimum.

      Perhaps by ensuring an open, transparent, and accountable system we will minimize greed and fear.

      Greed goes with power. If we have a distributed system, where everybody is involved, perhaps we can minimize power, and thereby minimize greed.

      Fear is somewhat the Prisoner's Dilemma. We may be tempted to grab our "fair share" before everybody else does, and there's nothing left.

      Beyond that, I'm not sure I have much of an answer. That's where everybody else comes in. By others reading this, and sharing their ideas, perhaps we can build a system that's somewhat greed and fear resistant.


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