Border Towns column — Sometimes, it comes down to bacon and eggs

Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce president offers opinion on cross-border shopping.

It’s so easy to underestimate the impact of cross-border shopping, especially when you are just looking at it in terms of a single product.  I hear all the time, that people just cross to buy gas and while they are there just stop & pick up some milk, a dozen eggs, cheese, bread, and meat — groceries.  It’s no big deal, it’s just a few groceries.

Well, as it turns out, it kind of is a big deal.  In 2012, more than two million cartons of U.S. eggs were brought into B.C., according to the B.C. Egg Marketing Board. That is about $3 million  worth of eggs.  Do you know what our schools, our health care system; our transportation infrastructure could do with $3 million?  I know in the grand scheme of things, it’s just $3 million, but that is just on the sale of eggs, one single thing.  Imagine what those numbers look like when you talk about the sale of dairy products as a whole. It’s staggering.

These are exactly the kind of significant economic losses that leave all of us with less money and put our fundamentally expected, publicly funded services at risk.  Health care, law enforcement, transit and public education all pay the price and jobs are lost.  In fact, according to the BC Egg Marketing Board, “an estimated 60 full time jobs are lost each year in British Columbia due to the costs of cross-border egg shopping.”

No big deal, it’s just 60 jobs.  Those jobs just belonged to the people that live and work here in our community.  Those employees just contribute to your kid’s baseball team, they coach the local soccer team, they give to the Christmas Bureau and they donate their time driving our seniors around.  In my mind, that is a pretty high price to pay for cheap eggs.

While we are on the subject of breakfast, let’s talk about bacon.  I am sure you have heard recently that there is a possible bacon shortage looming. Yes, brace yourself, batten down the hatches, it’s true.

Last year, in many grain producing regions, there was a drought.  This caused a very serious shortage of feed for the pigs.  The old school law of supply and demand kicked in and the price of feed increased significantly. Now we all know that farmers have to feed their pigs to make them delicious.  Let’s say a farmer owned, for the sake of argument, 500 pigs.  When the feed was less expensive, each pig cost $130 to feed.  With the increase in feed prices, that same pig now costs $170 to feed.

Consumers don’t want to pay more for those succulent little chops so ultimately it’s the farmer that pays the price. He can’t hold onto those pigs forever, the hogs need to be taken to market so the farmer can eat.  So now, instead of raising 500 pigs, the farmer needs to scale his business back to raise 200 pigs, it’s all he can afford to feed.  This creates a very slippery situation.  Now our pig farmers are operating at a deficit.

I am not an economist but I can tell you in any business, whether you are a farmer or a pharmacist, a change in business like that is not sustainable.  The farmer is then forced to make some very difficult decisions about the future of his business.  The price of pork goes up and people complain that pork in Canada is too expensive, so they just add to their list and pick it up when they buy their gas with little or no thought about the why or the how.

As a customer, I always buy B.C. pork.  Yes, it costs more but it’s delicious.  I know where it comes from, how it’s inspected and sometimes even the first name of the guy who fed it.  That farmer’s wife shops in my store and helps me do what I need to do to make my business sustainable.  Yes, she is just one customer but I don’t want to wake up one day and not have a choice.

I want to be able to buy Canadian pork for years to come; I want them to keep raising those tasty little pigs.  I know where my food comes from and that is important to me.  When we pay a bit more, we might not be able to eat as much bacon as we would like but it’s somehow even tastier when you finally realize it isn’t just bacon.  My choice is always to shop local. For me it isn’t even a question.

Angie Quaale owns Well-Seasoned, a Langley gourmet food store, and is the president of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

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