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Tory MP urges debate on supply-managing pork

A rural Ontario Conservative MP plans to ask his caucus to take up “full debate” on bringing supply management to Canada’s pork industry.

Michael Chong, who represents Wellington-Halton Hills, surrounding Guelph, and had served for most of 2006 as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s intergovernmental affairs minister, floated the idea following a meeting with hog producers Tuesday at West Garafraxa, north of Guelph.

Chong said he has asked federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to “consider additional financial assistance for these farmers.”

However, he added, “I also believe that it is time to have a full debate about transitioning the pork industry to supply management, so that we can have a viable and sustainable agricultural sector.”

Chong and the area’s provincial MPP, Ted Arnott, met with about 20 people at a local hog farm.

Speaking of the current low prices and rising costs of production for hogs, one local producer told the politicians that “it’s as if I was standing in the middle of the road, waiting to be hit with a Mack truck.”

“I’m spending my kids’ inheritance to stay in the business,” Chong and Arnott quoted another producer as saying.

After the meeting, Arnott said, he wrote an “urgent” letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, his second this summer on the issue.

“Very little is being done to alleviate this hardship,” Arnott wrote. “This is unacceptable, especially at a time when Ontario producers, according to Ontario Pork, have lost approximately $40 per hog through 2008 and into 2009.”

Canada currently operates supply managed systems in just five ag commodities: dairy products, eggs, hatching eggs, chicken and turkey, the so-called “SM5.”

The system requires the commodities’ producers to negotiate on minimum farm gate pricing and regulate their production to meet domestic demand, while the federal government imposes limits on imports of the same commodities from other countries, using tariffs.

Quebec hog producers recently reached an agreement with that province’s major pork packers that essentially assigns farms’ production to specific packing plants. Some market observers see the agreement as a precursor to supply management of hogs in Quebec.

Other provinces, however, in recent years have notably shed their previous single-desk marketing board models for hog sales.

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