Dairy farmers step up pressure on Ottawa over diafiltered milk

Milk producers say the rules around diafiltered milk in cheese making need to be enforced

Dairy Farmers of Canada and a coalition of Quebec farmers and processors are stepping up the pressure on the federal government to curb importation of diafiltered milk.

They’re calling on the government to enforce eight-year-old changes to cheese compositional standards that barred the use of high-protein milk products.

DFC president Wally Smith joined Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis and the heads of the Quebec Milk Producers Association, the Union des Producteurs Agricoles and Agropur Dairy Co-op at a news conference in Montreal for a joint appeal to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay to enforce the standards. The Quebec groups have the backing of 59 other businesses and dairies in the province.

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“Canada’s dairy farmers speak with one voice on diafiltered milk,” Smith said. “We are collectively disappointed with the lack of action on enforcement of the cheese standards. The government does not need to pass a new law or new regulation and the solution is simple. It needs to enforce the existing standards.”

In response to the farm groups, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said nothing about what or when the government might act, other than saying fixing the problem is “of the highest priority” to the government, and wanted to continue engaging farmers to ensure a durable solution to the issue.

“This is an issue that was inherited from the previous government,” MacAulay said. “We fought for and implemented supply management and we will continue to work for what is in the best interests of Canadian farmers from coast to coast to coast.”

The minister set himself up for the call to action when he told the Commons agriculture committee recently that they were looking to ensure the standards were clear to everyone and that diafiltered milk was never intended to be used as milk.

“We are working with the industry, and intend on having further discussions on this issue to ensure that standards are clear,” MacAulay said.

Paradis said MacAulay personally assured him back in February that he was working to make it clear that diafiltered didn’t meet the cheese compositional standards. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the issue a serious problem, Paradis added.

UPA president Marcel Groleau said the farmers are exasperated with Ottawa’s failure to protect the compositional standards.

DFC said in a statement that under the existing regulations a minimum portion of the required protein must come from milk. Milk protein substances, such as diafiltered milk, are less costly and are typically made from heavily subsidized foreign milk.

Some processors have taken to using milk protein substances as part of their required minimum percentage of “milk” when making cheese, instead of using it as a part of their allowable percentage of added ingredients. This is inconsistent with its classification at the border, where the ingredients are not even being considered under the dairy chapter of the Customs Tariff Schedule, entering the country tariff free.

“As a result, more ingredients are being used in cheese making than are allowed under the cheese compositional standards, resulting in less Canadian milk being used and a loss of revenue for Canadian farmers,” the statement read.

Smith said the former government put the standards in place and then never enforced them.

“We will continue to advocate vocally for fair enforcement of these rules,” Smith said.

MacAulay has said the government has been besieged with complaints from farmers and the dairy industry on the issue.

Industry sources peg the value of the imports at $100 million annually, which cuts the demand for Canadian-produced milk. Diafiltered milk isn’t used to make cheese in the U.S.

Dairy Farmers of Canada has also urged the government to fix the lack of coherence between the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) when it comes to enforcing the cheese standard.

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