What do consumers care about?

July 16th, 2012

Several months ago, I took part on a panel during a regional meeting of farmers, discussing consumer expectations. The most frequent questions from consumers involve the perceived risks of milk related to hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. Here is a farmer’s perspective on some common questions.

1. How do farmers ensure that the milk is safe, that there are no antibiotic or pesticide residues in the milk?

  • The Canadian Quality Milk program helps farmers deal with and prevent these risks, and ensure that milk is kept cold to minimize the spread of potential pathogens.

2. Is it true that there are no growth hormones in Canada?

  • This has been the national regulations since 1999. It is important for producers to comply with the legislation and industry standards. We believe in quality milk!

3. How do you treat your animals? Some say you expect too much of your cows.

  • We invest in research. Yes, our cows produce a lot of milk, but not at the expense of their health. The cows’ health is important. We invest in research on cow longevity. Farmers can and should continue to improve cows’ health and welfare. We invest to learn more about the diseases that affect our animals and how to reduce the risk of cows getting them. When a cow needs to be given antibiotics, the milk is discarded; it is not sold to consumers.
  • For me, as an organic milk producer, it is especially important to closely watch the signals that the cows give us in order to prevent fever or mastitis, for example. We have many resources to prevent them, and they must be used. Whether organic or not, prevention is much better – for the cows and the farmer’s bottom line - than having to treat afterwards!
  • If our cows have mastitis less often, for example, we lose less milk and the milk is better quality, which results in a better yield for processors. It’s a win-win for farmers, processors and consumers!
  • We are proud of the work and investment in improving cow genetics over the years. Canada’s cows are sought around the world!

4. How are calves raised?

  • Check out the few photos of calves in stalls, pens or hutches above.
  • Our code of practice tells us that the dairy calves on our farms must have “visual contact with each other”, enough space and conditions that promote health, comfort, safety, good feeding.

5. Do cows pollute more than cars? (FAO study – Livestock’s Long Shadow)

  • What is true globally – and all livestock animals are referred to here, not just dairy cows – is not true for Quebec or Canada. There are more cars than cows here, unlike many developing countries, for example. Also, dairy farmers have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in as many years. It’s a very good trend to lower emissions by 1% per year. It’s due to efficiency gains: more milk is produced with fewer animals and fewer resources (food, water, etc.) and less waste (manure, gas from rumination).

6. Family farms are better at taking care of the animals and the environment.

  • Canada’s farms are family farms. The average in Canada is 76 cows. Roughly 70% of farms have fewer than 70 cows, and 1.5% of farms have over 300 cows. In the United States, farms with fewer than 200 cows are considered small. 200 cows is their average; but 5% of farms produce 60% of US milk.
  • Pathogens are invisible, and producers cannot always control all of them. Pasteurization is mandatory in Canada. It is the best option for public health, even in countries that allow unpasteurized milk sales.
  • Regardless of farm size, farmers live on their farms and take care of the land to feed their animals. We want healthy farms that will sustain us and the next generation.

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