‘Made-in-Canada system’ keeps egg supply stable. But is it also keeping prices high?
Canada’s egg industry appears to be quietly sidestepping widespread shortages and wildly spiking prices affecting other countries, and some say supply management is to thank.
The system, which controls the supply, import and farm price of eggs, poultry and dairy, is often criticized as benefitting Canadian farmers at the expense of consumers. Critics blame supply management whenever prices of eggs and milk in Canada surpass those south of the border.
But as disease, climate change and geopolitical unrest threaten global food supplies, supporters say the upside of supply management is increasingly apparent.
“We have a made-in-Canada system that has never been more critical to food security in Canada,” said University of Waterloo history professor Bruce Muirhead, a former research chair for Egg Farmers of Canada.
“It’s keeping family farms alive and eggs on store shelves at a time when we’re seeing shortages around the world.”
Canada isn’t immune to the conditions affecting egg prices and supply in other countries.
Avian influenza, or bird flu, labour shortages, supply chain issues and soaring feed, fuel and packaging costs have all affected egg production and processing costs in Canada over the past year.
Statistics Canada said egg prices climbed 16.5 per cent year over year in December, making a dozen eggs that cost about $3.25 last year now $3.75.
While it’s a significant increase, it’s a fraction of the spiralling costs recorded in other countries.
In the United States, for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said egg prices were up 59.9 per cent in December compared with a year earlier.
In states like Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida, the cost of a carton of eggs exceeded US$6 a dozen or about $8 Canadian in recent weeks. Stores in some regions have even rationed eggs to avoid empty shelves amid supply chain issues and possible shortages.
The situation in the U.S. has prompted accusations of alleged price collusion among the nation’s top egg producers, while some news reports have suggested shoppers are travelling to border towns in Mexico or Canada to buy more affordable eggs.
In the United Kingdom, major supermarkets Tesco, Asda and Lidl have also set limits on how many eggs customers can buy, while some egg farmers say they can no longer break even. Egg prices in December were up 28.9 per cent year over year, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics reported.
New Zealand is also experiencing a nationwide egg shortage, leaving some store shelves bare and even prompting some consumers to rush out to buy their own backyard chickens. Statistics New Zealand said in an email the country’s egg prices increased 28.8 per cent in December 2022 compared with December 2021.
But critics say prices in Canada haven’t soared as drastically as in other countries for the simple reason that prices were already high to begin with.
“When prices are already among the highest in the world, it’s no surprise that our prices didn’t spike quite as much,” said Krystle Wittevrongel, a senior policy analyst with the Montreal Economic Institute.
“It’s easy to maintain more price stability when we have huge, excessively high prices to begin with.”
Provincial egg marketing boards have indicated that prices in Canada are starting to come down.
Egg Farmers of Ontario, for example, dropped the price farmers receive for a dozen eggs by 14 cents as of Jan. 29. It’s unclear whether processors and retailers will pass along those savings to consumers, though egg prices in some stores appear to have lowered by a few cents in recent days.
While egg marketing boards set farm prices, processors set the wholesale price of eggs and grocers set the retail price consumers pay.
“We don’t set the retail price at all,” Egg Farmers of Canada CEO Tim Lambert said. “We get paid based on our costs of production. We’re seeing grain prices ease up right now, and so our barn gate price is decreasing.”
Meanwhile, egg supply in Canada has remained steady even as shortages continue to plague other countries.
“We have definitely faced challenges,” Lambert said. “But our system has been really robust at keeping eggs on the shelves. If there are shortages, they’re local and temporary.”
One of the strengths of Canada’s egg industry is the greater number of smaller farms across the country, he said.
The average egg farm in Canada has about 25,000 laying hens. In contrast, the average farm in the U.S. has about two million birds, Lambert said.
“It’s a highly concentrated big business in the U.S.,” Lambert said.
Cal-Maine Foods, the largest producer and distributor of shell eggs in the U.S., is traded on the Nasdaq with a total flock of about 42 million layers. Its share price has soared 45 per cent over the past year.
Experts say the challenge with a highly consolidated industry is that disease outbreak can have a larger effect on supply. For example, if the country’s laying hens are concentrated into a handful of larger barns — rather than a larger number of smaller barns — the impact of having to euthanize a flock during a bird flu outbreak is also bigger.
“In Canada, production is pretty well distributed across the across the country,” said Université Laval professor Maurice Doyon, an Egg Industry Economic Research Chair. “Just mathematically the risk is lower, because we don’t have that huge concentration.”
In the United States, about 44.5 million laying hens were affected by avian influenza, representing about 14 per cent of production, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spokesperson Samantha Seary said.
In Canada, about 1.6 million laying hens were affected by bird flu, or about six per cent of Canadian production, she said.
Canada’s egg industry is also better positioned to withstand other issues from supply chain problems to climate change, Doyon said.
“Supply management ensures a healthy enough margin that farmers in Canada can take care of the health of the hens and the environment because they have the means to do it,” he said.
Still, while supply management may create a sustainable egg industry, critics say it comes at too high a cost.
They say the advantages don’t outweigh the downsides of higher prices for consumers over the long run.
“Canada’s stuck on this protectionist, archaic system that benefits a small group of entrenched interests,” Wittevrongel said. “It seems like we’re in a better position now when in reality our prices are so much higher at any other time of year.”
But lots of items are more expensive in Canada than in the United States — and the overwhelming majority are not supply managed, Doyon said.
“Let’s look at bread or a can of soup or even a new car. These are more expensive in Canada than in the United States, but they’re not under supply management,” he said.
Even among supply managed goods within Canada, items like eggs, milk and butter are generally much cheaper in bigger cities like Toronto than in other regions such as the Maritimes, Doyon said.
For example, a dozen Sobeys Compliments white large eggs cost $3.75 in Toronto, according to the chain’s Voilà online grocery website. The exact same container of eggs in Halifax costs $4.85.
The price difference between Toronto and Halifax underscores the regional differences that exist even within the same country under the same system.
“I’m not saying that supply management has no impact. But you just cannot attribute the entire difference in price between say Canada and the United States to supply management.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press
The USMCA’s self-destruct button: review clause conjures fears of 2018 all over again
WASHINGTON — It’s been less than three years since the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement replaced NAFTA as the law of the land in continental trade, and there are already hints of the existential anxiety that preceded it.
That’s because of the so-called “sunset provision,” a clause that reflects the lingering working-class distrust of globalization in the U.S. that helped Donald Trump get elected president back in 2016.
Article 34.7 of the agreement, the “review and term extension” clause, establishes a 16-year life cycle that requires all three countries to sit down every six years to ensure everyone is still satisfied.
That clock began ticking in the summer of 2020. If it runs out in 2026, it triggers a self-destruct mechanism of sorts, ensuring the agreement — known in Canada as CUSMA — would expire 10 years later without a three-way consensus.
For Canada, the sunset provision “is a minefield,” said Lawrence Herman, an international trade lawyer and public policy expert based in Toronto.
“It is certainly not a rubber-stamping exercise — far from it.”
Of particular concern is the fact that the provision doesn’t spell out in detail what happens if one of the parties indicates that it won’t sign off on extending the deal without significant changes to the terms.
“The concern is that this could mean, in effect, that we’ll be into a major renegotiation of CUSMA in 2026,” by which time the political landscape in both the U.S. and Mexico could look very different, Herman said.
“What happens then? The government and business community need to be thinking about this and start preparing the groundwork and doing contingency planning now.”
The deal as it stands is hardly perfect, if the number of disputes is any indication.
In the 33 months since USMCA went into effect in July 2020, 17 disputes have been launched among the three countries, compared with a total of 77 initiated over the course of NAFTA’s 25-year lifespan.
The U.S. remains unhappy with how Canada has allocated the quotas that give American dairy producers access to markets north of the border. Canada and Mexico both took issue with how the U.S. defined foreign auto content. And Canada and the U.S. oppose Mexico favouring state-owned energy providers.
The Canada-U.S. disputes are likely to be on the agenda when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits down later this week in Ottawa with President Joe Biden, his first official visit to Canada since being sworn in two years ago.
“The president’s really excited about doing this, about going up there and really going to Ottawa for no other purpose than the bilateral relationship,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the White House briefing Monday.
Prior meetings between the two have typically been on the margins of international summits or at trilateral gatherings with their Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Kirby cited climate change, trade, the economy, irregular migration and modernizing the continental defence system known as Norad as just some of “a bunch of things” the two leaders are expected to talk about.
“He has a terrific relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau — warm and friendly and productive.”
Trade disputes notwithstanding, the overwhelming consensus — in Canada, at least — is that USMCA is vastly better than nothing.
“I don’t want to be alarmist about this, but we cannot take renewal for granted,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, after several days of meetings last week with Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Constantly talking up the vital role bilateral trade plays in the continent’s continued economic health is a cornerstone of Canada’s diplomatic strategy. The message Hyder brought home from D.C.? Don’t stop now.
“We met several senators, we met people from the administration, and their message was, ‘Be down here. Make your case. Continue to remind Americans of the role that Canada has in their economy,'” he said.
“We’ve got to … be a little less humble in the United States and start reminding Americans just how much skin in the game that they have in Canada.”
That can be a challenging domestic political truth in the U.S., where deep-seated resentment over free trade in general and NAFTA in particular metastasized in 2016 and persists to this day.
Biden likes to put a blue-collar, Buy American frame around policy decisions. His original plan to advance electric-vehicle sales saved the richest incentives for vehicles assembled in the U.S. with union labour.
Aggressive lobbying by Canada helped avert a serious crisis for Canada’s auto sector; the Inflation Reduction Act that Biden ultimately signed included EV tax credits for vehicles assembled in North America.
For many, it was a cautionary tale about the importance of arguing Canada’s interests in Washington.
A strong U.S. depends on a strong Canada, said Rob Wildeboer, executive chairman and co-founder of Ontario-based auto parts supplier Martinrea International Inc., who took part in last week’s D.C. meetings.
“The USMCA and the ability to move goods across borders is extremely important to us, it’s extremely important to our industry, it’s extremely important to this country, and it’s a template for the things we can do together with the United States,” Wildeboer said.
“In order for the U.S. to be strong, it needs strong neighbours, and Canada’s right at the top of the list.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Oilers need overtime heroics to sink Sharks 5-4
San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson (65) looks on as Edmonton Oilers’ Darnell Nurse (25) celebrates his goal during overtime NHL action in Edmonton on Monday March 20, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
By Shane Jones in Edmonton
Darnell Nurse scored the overtime winner on his team’s 52nd shot as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-4 on Monday night, a game that featured four goals called back on video review.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was able to spring Nurse on a breakaway and he scored with just 15 seconds left in overtime.
Mattias Ekholm had a pair of goals and Nick Bjugstad and Kailer Yamamoto also scored for the Oilers (40-23-8) who have won eight of their last 10.
Erik Karlsson had two goals and Alexander Barabanov and Steven Lorentz also replied for the Sharks (19-37-15) who saw their losing streak extended to seven games. The Sharks have one win in their last 13 games.
The Sharks looked like they had an early lead just 1:14 in when Tomas Hertl cleanly beat Oilers goalie Jack Campbell with a blast to the top corner, only to have the goal called back via video review on an offside call.
San Jose would get the game’s first goal, however, just 5:48 into the first, as a big rebound off of a Hertl shot came out to Barabanov, who wired home his 15th.
Edmonton pulled even at 7:08 of the opening frame as Warren Foegele found a wide-open Bjugstad at the side of the net and he had an easy time scoring his third as an Oiler before Sharks starter James Reimer could get across the crease.
The Oilers looked to have surged ahead midway through the first on the power play on a deflection in front by Zach Hyman, but the goal was disallowed upon review for goaltender interference.
Edmonton officially made it 2-1 just 30 seconds into the second period as a pass ticked off a pair of defenders before hitting the stick of Yamamoto, who scored his 10th.
The Sharks looked to have tied the game six minutes into the middle frame on a goal by Andreas Johnsson, but once again the goal was called back on goalie interference after a challenge.
San Jose tied the game at 8:32 of the second as Lorentz was stopped by Campbell on his original breakaway shot, but was able to bat his own rebound out of the air and in for his eighth.
The Sharks made it 3-2 less than two minutes later when blown coverage allowed Fabian Zetterlund to make a soft pass to Karlsson in alone, and he beat Campbell with a nifty deke.
Edmonton tied it again 11:48 into the second period, as Ekholm changed gears and cut in on net before beating Reimer with a backhand shot.
Karlsson gave the Sharks yet another lead a couple minutes later, taking a feed in the shot and blasting a one-timer in for his second of the game and 22nd of the season.
An unbelievable fourth goal was called back four minutes into the third as a goal off an odd-man rush by Noah Gregor was deemed to have been offside, the third goal taken away from the Sharks.
Cody Ceci fished a sure goal to safety as it was on its way into the Edmonton net, allowing Ekholm to score his second of the game a couple minutes later with 3:47 remaining in the third, walking in and powering a slapshot past Reimer to make it 4-4.
Reimer would make a huge save with 47 seconds remaining on Leon Draisaitl on the power play to send the game to extra time.
It was Campbell’s first start in the Edmonton net since a 6-5 loss at the Winnipeg Jets on March 4, as he served as a backup to Stuart Skinner for the last six games. … Out with injuries for the Sharks were Luke Kunin (knee), Markus Nutivaara (lower body), Jacob MacDonald (undisclosed) and Evgeny Svechnikov (lower body). … The Sharks assigned forward William Eklund to their AHL squad on Sunday and called up Andrew Agozzino, who made his season debut. … Missing for the Oilers were Ryan Murray (back) and Ryan McLeod, who missed his third game with an upper body injury. … The Oilers came into the contest leading the league with 3.91 goals per game, and have scored 138 goals and had averaged 4.31 goals/game since Jan. 1. Edmonton had scored four or more goals in 13 of their last 16 games. … The Sharks entered the contest having allowed four-plus goals per game 39 times this year, the second-most in the NHL.
Oilers: Remain at home to face the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.
Sharks: Play the second game of a three-game road trip in Vancouver on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.
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