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Opinion: Fear over facts, a new reality for dairy farmers

Vicki Brisson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 December 2017

Canadian dairy farmers are constantly targeted by new policies and activists. They typically all fuel off the same issue: negative consumer perspective – and the new updated Canadian food guide is no different.

It can be difficult for producers to convey their message in a way that consumers can easily understand. Throughout the years, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) has stepped in to bridge the gap between producers and consumers.

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The new food guide, expected to be released in 2018, could tear apart the dairy industry. For years, Canadian citizens have relied on an evidence-based food guide when making nutrition choices. Government agencies claim the new food guide’s focus will be on consumer preferences rather than on producers.

There lies the problem: they blame DFC for pushing false information to Canadians, compromising their health. They lack agricultural knowledge and instead rely on social media as their main source of information.

This campaign is based on fear rather than facts. Consumers are once again brought to believe that producers have nothing but their own interest at heart. Canadian dairy farmers, however, greatly value their social license to farm and offer consumers a product they feel is equally safe for them and their family.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture reports that 98 percent of Canadian farms are family-owned farms, yet many consumers are convinced of the opposite. It is common belief that cows are raised in corporate-owned farms, where producers do not care about animal welfare.

Family farm or not, all Canadian dairy operations need to comply with the proAction Initiative, which was built off of the Canadian Quality Milk program. The proAction Initiative ensures Canadian milk is produced under golden standards, considering all aspects from animal welfare to milk quality to traceability.

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Dairy farmers know they produce a nutritious, high-quality, clean product. In their book Beverage Impacts on Health and Nutrition: Second Edition, authors Ted Wilson and Norman Temple, prove that an increased consumption of dairy in children even reduces the risks of obesity. Yet somehow consumers still do not fully understand all the benefits of milk, and it could very well be eliminated from the new food guide.

DFC works hard to ensure that Canadian dairy producers get the recognition they deserve for their quality product. Regardless of the way it is produced, milk contains nearly all the essential nutrients.

Government agencies suggest animal products can be replaced by their plant-based equivalents. Alternatively to the substitution of animal-based products with plant-based products, Canadian citizens should consider the sourcing and processing levels of the food they consume.

To recommend fortified plant-based beverages is to promote a highly processed food sourced from an imported product when there is a minimally processed, locally sourced product already available. When considering the source of their food, consumers should focus more on the provenance and less on the source.

When comparing dairy cow milk to a plant-based enriched beverage, it should also be noted that although nutrient content might be similar, their provenance is not.

As mentioned in research led by researchers at the University of Madrid, milk contains protein, calcium and B12, but what really matters here is that they are produced naturally rather than enriched in the drink. This therefore means the nutrients are more readily available and can easily be absorbed by the body.

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Dairy farmers might be the target now, but they definitely are not the only ones affected by this shift in consumer perspective. Canadian citizens need to stop irrevocably believing all the information that media feeds them and instead question the source and authenticity of these facts.

They need to step out of their comfort zone and truly understand where their food comes from rather than be afraid of it.  end mark

Vicki Brisson is a B.Sc. Agr. student with University of Guelph. Email Vicki Brisson.

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