Here’s an example in consumer and farmer disparity for you: at the recent 50th anniversary Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) annual meeting, its first general manager, Brian Ellsworth, noted how in the early years, the focus was on fair pricing for farmers and increasing consumption; 50 years later, the organization is giving $50,000 to the Farm and Food Care Foundation to enhance public trust in food.
Consumer mistrust of food and food production wasn’t a reality faced by EFO and it’s provincial and national counterparts in the early 1960s and into the early 1970s, when the primary issues facing the poultry industry were farm economics and controlling production levels.
In the early years of orderly marketing, consumer engagement consisted solely on the promotion of eggs, chicken and turkey. There wasn’t any need to place farmers or farming into the limelight; what they do and how they do it was never questioned. Fifty years ago, people weren’t as removed from farming as they are now.
But all of this has changed dramatically since then. The EFO presented this disparity very well during its meeting, beginning with a “respecting our past” session followed by “embracing our present” and “building our future” sessions. It served to educate producers on how the industry has evolved and shared several key lessons that are applicable across the industry nationwide.
Lawyers involved in upholding the legislation behind the supply management system discussed its origins and how the legislation – a “fusion” of national and provincial authority, has stood the test of time and numerous legal challenges. Despite this, it is not a system to be taken for granted, said speaker Pierre Brousseau, a Montreal-based lawyer who’s made a career out of working with supply-managed commodities. “The younger generation needs to realize that supply management is not written in marble.”
Lawyer Herman Turkstra noted that the “world outside” of supply management wonders about it and said the steps the industry has taken in recent years to communicate with the public and be more transparent is key, and needs to continue with greater effort in future.
This is particularly important with an upcoming federal election and the push from the United States for Canada to sacrifice supply management in order to allow the Trans-Pacific Talks to move ahead. Although one of the “embracing our present” speakers, Chad Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers (UEP), praised the system, he acknowledged that without it, “it would be a matter of months” before U.S. producers moved in.
The reality for our forefathers was setting up a system that worked for both producers and consumers. But it’s not just about stability and profitability anymore. Now, farmers are faced with not only protecting the system in which they operate, but defending what they do and how they do it every day.
It’s not fun having to be on the defense at every turn, but it’s necessary in today’s world. As “building our future” speaker Jim Carroll – a futurist, trend and innovation expert – noted, seven out of 10 children today will be working in jobs that aren’t even in existence yet. Their world is social, immediate and online, and they are bombarded with messages at every turn. The industry needs to embrace this, and ensure that the messages they receive are factual – the future depends on it.