Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of Agriculture this question at the request of supply managed farmers in dairy, poultry and eggs in my riding. I am grateful to the minister for his reply. I know he supports supply management, but I want him to know that he has strong support in this from urban and rural MPs in our caucus.
Supply management is a made in Canada system of agriculture that costs the government nothing while producing fine, safe, affordable food. It is a system which has attracted young farmers, thus securing the future of these sectors of agriculture.
When I mentioned this debate to my wife, she said “Give me a dozen eggs, six ounces of cheese, and three litres of milk and I will give you a good meal for six at little more than $1 a head”. When I mentioned it to a supermarket manager, he pointed out that eggs and poultry sales go up in tough economic times when customers are looking for good, low cost food.
Supply management is based on three pillars: import controls; product price setting; and product production discipline.
Import controls do not mean closing the border, but limiting imports to amounts negotiated by the WTO. These controls provide the safety net within which our farmers can competently provide their products to Canadians.
While supply management has been shown to be an effective system for eggs, poultry and dairy, it is facing international challenges that should not be underestimated. We are now facing a new round of WTO negotiations. The Harbinson paper, a background document for these negotiations, caused great concern among farmers. Thankfully it is no longer on the table.
I know the Government of Canada opposed the Harbinson approach. It is our job to defend the fine system of agriculture it threatened. I urge that we fight harder. My colleagues and I are very willing to help the minister do this at home and abroad. He knows that two of the five parties in the House of Commons have doubts about supply management, but he has cross-party support from the other three. All Liberals support it, including rural members, and urban members like the MP for Toronto--Danforth who regularly speaks out on this. We also have allies in other WTO countries.
Our system is being challenged through the WTO. However import controls are also being challenged by the use of loopholes in the customs system for bringing dairy products into Canada. For example, butter oil sugar blends have been designed to deliberately circumvent the system. Importers argue that their blends are not butter substitutes, substances that cannot be imported under existing rules. Yet these blends displace 30% of Canadian butter in the manufacture of ice cream, representing $27 million or 270 dairy farms worth of produce.
I urge the ministers involved, and it is not just the Minister of Agriculture, to recognize butter oil sugar blends and others for what they really are, butter substitutes that are illegal imports. I urge the government to act promptly and publicly on these matters. Farmers and consumers across Canada will support the government in this.
Let us say loud and clear that we designed this supply managed system, that we are proud of it, that we intend to keep it and enhance it, and that we encourage other countries to use it.
I await the parliamentary secretary's reply.