Dairy farmers reeling from the uncertainty descending on their farms in light of the new trade deal can take heart in one thing, says Manitoba dairy farmer and Dairy Farmers of Canada vice-president David Wiens.
“There’s one thing the government can’t take away from us with this trade deal, and it is the relationship we have with consumers,” he told a meeting in Winkler last week.
There has been a significant uptick in social media activity by Canadians dismayed over the trade deal, with pledges made on sites such as Facebook to ‘buy Canadian’ netting thousands of shares.
Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) has also seen a significant increase in incoming emails, phone calls as well as these social media messages from those wanting to know exactly how to identify Canadian dairy products at the grocery store.
Wiens said he has personally received email from Canadians saying they’re unhappy about the concessions Canada made which will allow in American dairy product, and saying they’ll continue to support local dairy farmers.
“When I think about what has happened, this is what gives me hope,” he said.
A key issue consumers flag is that they don’t want to be buying milk produced from cows injected with the hormone bovine somatotrophin (rBST) which boosts milk production. The product is used in the U.S. but is not registered for use in Canada.
Of course, there will continue to be those making their milk-purchasing decisions based on price, Wiens said. But clearly there are also those seeking Canadian milk products because other things matter.
“Specifically because they have concerns about how it’s produced elsewhere.”
It will be critically important in this new era to keep talking with consumers about how milk is produced here at home, and that means communicating the message of Canadian industry’s national assurance program, he said.
He’s referring to Dairy Farmers of Canada’s ProAction program and its commitment to quality, disclosing the industry’s animal welfare standards, and other Canadian milk quality commitments including there being no antibiotic residues in milk nor use of rBST in Canada.
That program is fundamental for their industry to keep up this conversation with Canadians, and to help Canadian dairy product stand out among competitive product, Wiens said.
“ProAction is an assurance program to help to demonstrate what we do on the farm, and that it’s done in a way that Canadians approve of. That is their value. We share those values,” he said.
“Looking forward, the relationship with consumers is increasingly important,” he said.
“We need to continue building on it.”
The way Canadians can differentiate Canadian dairy in the marketplace is through the little blue cow logo, or Certification of Origin logo unveiled by Dairy Farmers of Canada two years ago. Agropur Dairy Co-operative was the first to adopt it. Other vendors, processors and food services have now followed suit. People can see it when they walk into a Tim Hortons or Dairy Queen outlet, for example.