Canada’s dairy supply management system is a public health menace

Espace Opéra Milk
Hard to believe, but this is a symbol of politics in Canada: free-traders beware!

The supply management system inflates the cost of diary products to Canadian consumers. Canada also applies substantial duties on imported dairy products. Both of these practices are of dubious benefit to consumers, and cost them substantial sums of money each year. It also has public health consequences that have been ignored.

In other countries, and particularly within the European Union, prices for milk, cheese, probiotics, yoghurt, etc. are about 30-40% of Canadian prices. By comparison, in a typical Canadian grocery store, a litre of low fat milk ranges between C$2.14 and C$2.40, three times the price in Europe.

There is some evidence that high prices may discourage parents from buying milk for their children. This may correlate with family income relative to poverty thresholds. Research has quantified how children substitute sugary carbonated drinks for milk. Reduced dairy consumption may be contributing to rising obesity in children and perhaps rising incidence of Type II diabetes, something we thought only showed up much later in life.

Milk consumption is also lower for girls, which may predispose them to osteoporosis later in life. Recent Canadian research has shown that reduced milk consumption during pregnancy leads to low birth-weight babies. We are also seeing the return of rickets.

At present, the parties to the supply management system itself are the main sources of information for consumers on dairy products. This makes it virtually impossible for consumers to access independent information. This is a tight circle that may not be acting in the public interest when looked at in terms of implications to human health.

The logic of the dairy supply management system is weak when tested against public health outcomes.  It is time to abandon this policy, which favours the few, has public health consequences for the many, and adds costs to provincial healthcare systems already under significant stress.

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