In a recent defence of supply management, Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter writes:
"Another major concern those opposed to supply management have not addressed is the bovine growth hormone, rBST. The use of this growth hormone on dairy cows to increase milk production has not been approved for use in Canada… By eliminating supply management and opening our border to 'cheap' milk and dairy products we would be doing indirectly what is illegal directly, namely placing on the retail shelves dairy products produced through the use of a growth hormone. Currently in the U.S., 17 per cent of the nine million dairy cattle are injected with this growth hormone."
This claim is highly misleading, as it fails to address the existing regulatory framework for dairy products in Canada.
It would be easy to assume from the above that there are no U.S. dairy imports into Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Government of Canada's Canadian Dairy Information Centre, more than 102 million kilograms of dairy products were imported into Canada from the United States in 2011, including 31.8 million kilograms of milk. Supply management limits the amount of foreign dairy products that come into the country (by making them prohibitively expensive), but it does not eliminate them entirely.
A brief 1998 piece by Canada's Parliamentary Research Branch found that products from rBST cows were almost certainly being sold in Canada:
"It is very likely that products such as cheese and yogurt made from milk produced by rBST-treated cows have been imported into Canada. In fact, the use of rBST has been approved in the United States since February, 1994. In that country, milk from treated cows is considered to be as safe as milk from untreated cows and there is no labelling requirement concerning rBST on dairy products."
In short, dairy supply management does not stop U.S. dairy products from being sold in Canada. Eliminating supply management would not prevent Canada from limiting the sales of dairy products from rBST-treated cows.
Mike Moffatt is an Assistant Professor in the Business, Economics and Public Policy (BEPP) group at the Richard Ivey School of Business – Western University