Canadian dairy farmers share consumers’ desire to be mindful of the environmental footprint of the products they consume.
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Dairy farming in Canada is responsible and thriving, contrary to a portrayal by columnist Sylvain Charlebois, writes Pierre Lampron. - Torstar , Mac Christie/

This is in response to the commentary headlined “Dairy alternatives pose an increasing threat to an already struggling agricultural sector” Feb. 26.

Sylvain Charlebois’ article is a study in contradictions. On one hand, he acknowledges supply management has given Canadians access to fresh, high-quality, local milk at stable prices for years. On the other, he calls for its elimination.

He observes how urban consumers are increasingly disconnected from farmers (“dairy farming is a mystery” he notes), but chides the industry for its efforts to showcase real dairy farmers and help Canadians understand what modern dairy farming is all about.

He describes a dairy industry that is local, ethical and responsible, then attempts to justify alternatives that would be “very taxing on the environment if purchased in Canada.”

First and foremost, Canadian dairy farmers share consumers’ desire to be mindful of the environmental footprint of the products they consume. Good stewardship is actually one of the foundations of our national quality assurance program, proAction. Dairy farmers are also governed by extremely high standards of animal welfare, milk quality, food safety, traceability and biosecurity — a far cry from the ‘short-sighted’ industry he claims doesn’t listen to consumers.

Supply management in dairy production is part of a desire to produce enough milk to meet the country’s needs. Our American neighbours overproduce and export dairy at a rate of 15 per cent annually, overburdening that country’s natural resources so that products can be exported around the world. Unlike U.S. production, our model of sustainable agriculture encourages the consumption of local products while preventing food waste.

Milk production also contributes to enriching the land, which in turn plays a crucial role in carbon sequestration. It is thus in line with the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published last summer, which stresses the importance of good management of agricultural and forest soils in carbon capture and the importance of avoiding soil degradation.

As a result of producers’ ongoing efforts and research — the sorts of innovation he says are lacking — milk production accounts for only 1 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions. Moreover, the sector’s environmental footprint is steadily decreasing. According to the most recent environmental life cycle analysis of dairy production, Canada ranks among the best in the world. From 2011 to 2016, we have reduced the environmental impact substantially, reducing the carbon footprint of production of a glass of milk by 7 per cent, its water consumption by 6 per cent and its land use by 11 per cent.

The vast majority of Canadians believe that dairy farmers do an excellent job of producing quality milk. Moreover, 88 per cent of Canadians believe milk is an important food for health, including 82 per cent of millennials.

What further illustrates the opinion of consumers is our sales. General demand for all dairy products is on the rise, contrary to what Charlebois claims. Between 2015 and 2017, we have seen a 15 per cent increase in total Canadian demand. Between 2013 and 2016, the demand for butterfat increased by 23 per cent in Canada, largely due to scientific research that has shown that milk fat is not linked to the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Dairy production in Canada is ethical and responsible, which addresses the concerns of most Canadians. Dairy producers communicate seamlessly with consumers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, on the various digital platforms, social media and other mediums they use.

Whether Mr. Charlebois likes it or not, our dairy farmers have long been committed to sustainable production. Accusing them of “burying their heads in the sand” may be entertaining, but it doesn’t make it a reality.

Pierre Lampron is President of Dairy Farmers of Canada

The delay in details being issued on the proposed dairy reduction scheme is “playing with the futures” of farm families, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).

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