The DFO and the raw milk “nuts” — seeking common ground for discussion

When MPP Bill Murdoch put forward his private members bill in the Ontario Legislature back in 2006, proposing to study the issue of raw milk, it became clear that the chief opposition to re-opening the question of raw milk at the legislative level, arose from the “The Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO)”, and their two lobbyists, Hill and Knowlton.

The DFO (formerly the Ontario Milk Marketing Board) runs the quota-based supply management system which limits production to ensure predictable market prices for milk and milk products in Ontario.

You might wonder what possible common ground there could be between an organization like the DFO and a bunch of raw milk “nuts”. Well, to start with, we’re all “nuts” about milk. Unlike a lot of people these days, we strongly believe that it’s neither unnatural nor unhealthy for human beings to drink a substantial amount of bovine milk and to eat milk products.

Next, we all believe in the family farm. Ontario’s quota system has had the effect of keeping production units smaller than in say, California, where 5,000 cow farms are not unusual and where increases in scale are necessitated by low prices paid to producers. In order to be confident in the quality of the product, raw milk fans like to know that there’s genuine human responsibility at work in the production process, which is really only feasible in a smaller scale of production — like the family farm.

Keeping milk production local is another big point of agreement. Neither the DFO or raw milk nuts would like to see milk imported to our province from the U.S., South America, or China, all places where the cost of production might arguably be lower and where a perverted kind of economics might argue for “outsourcing” our dairy industry. No, we all — DFO and raw milk nuts — are staunch supporters of local production, to shorten the supply chain, promote more personal relations between farmer and consumer, to promote local employment, and for national and provincial food security reasons, not to mention all the ecological reasons like reduced fuel consumption.

Health is another big point of agreement. We all think milk is or should be a healthy food that people would want to eat in order to strengthen their immune systems and build up their health. No one wants to see people getting sick from drinking milk or eating cheese.

We’d all like to see milk’s market share go up. More people drinking milk would be a good thing to both the DFO and raw milk nuts. This is a big part of what raw milk advocates bring to the table — a proven strategy to increase market share and build excitement around the product. And that’s no small thing in today’s world.

Last time around, following the 1994 “milk wars”, the one concession made by the dairy establishment at the time was to allow a separate pool for organic milk. Now of course this organic milk was also pasteurized and homogenized. But still, the category of organic milk has been the one bright spot in terms of market growth, in an otherwise bleak world of shrinking demand for dairy foods.

Personally I think there’s a lot of common ground, and that frank discussion could lead to important results both for the industry and for consumers.

What are we waiting for?

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