© AgMedia Inc.
by SUSAN MANN
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz isn’t mincing any words on a National Farmers Union request to ban packers from using buying arrangements that can lower cattle prices industry-wide.
“Whether they’re shilling for prison farms or off on another anti-business rant, the NFU never misses an opportunity to prove they’re completely out of touch with producers on the ground,” Ritz wrote Friday in an email to Better Farming.
He urges the farm organization to “stop wasting time with this kind of proposal” and start representing real farmers.
“The nature of his quote, I guess, speaks for himself," said Grant Robertson, the Union’s Ontario coordinator and a beef farmer in a telephone interview the same day.
In an email later that evening, Robertson said he’s disturbed that Ritz would not consider those who are concerned about captive supply practices as real farmers. “It suggests he is getting advice from people who do not represent most family farmers in this country,” he writes, calling Ritz “over the top (in the) way he attacks others.”
The Union requested a law to ban captive supply practices in a letter May 27 to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the three federal party leaders. The Union says beef packers use the practices, which include forward contracting without fixed prices, packer feeding, and exclusive marketing/purchasing agreements, to suppress prices to independent sellers.
Harper hasn’t yet responded.
The practices “allow large buyers to stop bidding in cash markets whenever prices rise above levels they wish to pay,” the Union says in its letter, which claims “nearly every study on the issue has concluded that captive supply leads to lower prices for ranchers and farmers.”
Robertson says Ritz is out of step with many politicians in Ottawa, including ones in his own Conservative party who have said that captive supply is an issue.
“We still feel pretty confident that there’s a lot of support for dealing with this issue,” he says.
Lianne Appleby, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association spokesperson, says captive supply is more of a problem in the West than in Ontario.
She notes that the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has criticized a 2008 NFU study on low prices in the beef industry for not addressing the impact of changing consumer demand on both domestic and North American beef prices. “Banning captive supply would not address this issue,” she says.
A bill introduced in the United States last month would end certain anti-competitive forward marketing contracts and ensure ranchers there have full access to the marketplace.
Robertson says if the United States passes a law banning captive supply and Canada doesn’t “we’re going to leave (Canadian) family farmers, particularly independent feeders and cow-calf operators, in a very vulnerable position.” BF