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Jim Lee in his closed chicken processing plant in Welland Ont. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)
Jim Lee in his closed chicken processing plant in Welland Ont. (Glenn Lowson for The Globe and Mail)

Fowl play: How supply management is thwarting Canada’s agri-food industry Add to ...

The result is that profit margins have soared among the shrinking cluster of large processors who dominate the market. The result is a widening gap in retail prices that isn’t benefiting farmers, and is clearly harming consumers, according to soon-to-be-published research by Prof. Barichello.

“When we see the high price at retail, it’s not just the farm price that’s gone up,” explained Prof. Barichello, who grew up on a dairy farm still run by his brother in Langley, B.C. “That’s an issue of some concern if we were to face the prospect of exporting.”

Dairy prices in Canada were 115 per cent higher than New Zealand’s between 1983 and 2010, and 23 per cent more than in the U.S., according to a recent report by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. And the gap is expected to widen sharply over the next decade. For the average family, that represents a penalty of hundreds of dollars a year.

Mr. Lee is now considering some desperate measures to save his plant from closing permanently. He’s applied for a special licence to import U.S. chickens, which he would then process and sell south of the border. He’s also looking at the possibility of importing packaged chicken and vegetables, which are allowed into the country without paying the 238 per cent tariff that shields Canadian farmers.

He points out the obvious irony that these unpalatable options wouldn’t do much to help Canadian farmers, or the Canadian economy.

Mr. Lee is left scratching his head, unable to comprehend why supply management is throttling his business.

“I love being Canadian,” he said. “But I can’t service the people who want my product. I can’t build a business and I can’t help the economy here. It’s asinine.”

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