A labour dispute at a Quebec dairy plant has led to the dumping of 2 million litres of milk since Wednesday.
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The 250 workers at the Agropur plant in Granby, Que. began an indefinite strike on June 29.

With the plant now closed, many Quebec dairy farmers are scrambling to get their milk processed before it goes bad.

“The shelf life is very short for milk. And when there’s a disruption in the processing, we need to be able to react quickly,” dairy farmer Jason Erskine told CTV News.

For Erskine, this means sending the milk out of province, as his farm in Hinchinbrook, Que. is close to the Ontario border.

But for many other farmers, it means throwing the milk away.

The plant processes 800,000 litres of milk a day, which accounts for about 10 per cent of milk production in Quebec.

“It’s no small feat, trying to place that much milk,” Erskine said.

According to the union representing the workers (CSD), the strike was sparked by Agropur’s plan to extend the workday from eight to 12 hours.

“The schedule change will add 48 hours of work to a five-week period and will also eliminate 30 jobs,” said union representative Bernard Cournoyer.

He said that while it’s unfortunate the dispute is resulting in wasted dairy, the union has no plans to accept what the company is trying to do.

Agropur did not respond to a request for comment from CTV News, but told The Canadian Press it’s making every effort to avoid wasting milk and to reach a settlement with the union.

UP TO 300M LITRES WASTED EVERY YEAR IN CANADA

Sylvain Charlebois, a food industry analyst at Dalhousie University, says the Agropur saga reflects a Canada-wide issue, as between 100 and 300 million litres of milk are dumped every year.

“We’re not supposed to be wasting milk at all,” he said. “We are the only country in the world with supply management, which allows us to produce what we need.”

Established in the 1970s, supply management is a system that controls Canada’s dairy production.

The idea is to regulate the amount of milk produced according to demand, mitigating dramatic fluctuations in price and supply as a result.

But Charlebois said there are nevertheless situations that lead to milk dumping — such as strikes.

He believes farmers should be incentivized to find alternative approaches, he said.

“The point is that food waste or milk-dumping occurs every single year no matter what, so we need to see a dairy sector focused on finding solutions [instead] of just dumping milk,” he said.

If milk dumping were made illegal, Charlebois said, the dairy industry would be motivated to get rid of excess product in more sustainable ways, like freezing and powdering the milk.

But Erskine said he believes these approaches just aren’t “feasible” in the near future.

“It’s a long-term investment. So you have to be looking at doing it over a longer period of time,” he said.

Charlebois proposed the dairy industry reallocate funds to make these processes more accessible.

“They’re spending $150 million in marketing to Canadians to drink more milk,” he said. “They could use that money to support a strategic reserve or build a plant to store milk.”

Fonterra says the outlook for dairy is positive, and the co-operative has released an upbeat forecast for its full-year profit.

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