Group pushes for non-GM milk label

Consumers have plenty of options in the dairy aisle, whether it is whole milk, one percent, buttermilk, organic, lactose-free, soy, almond or coconut.

However, a Manitoba dairy farmer says Canadians need one more alternative: non-genetically modified milk.

“We’re just seeing a demand coming, and there are (Manitoba) processors that have been echoing the same comments,” said Hans Gorter, who farms near Otterburne. “They have customers asking, ‘is there any non-GMO milk or cheese?’ ”

Gorter and his son, Albert, introduced a resolution at the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba meeting in Winnipeg in early December that asked the board to work with dairy processors to “make the (non-GM) market opportunity a reality for Manitoba registered producers.”

Non-GM milk would come from Holstein and Jersey cattle fed a ration of non-GM grain and oil-seeds.

The resolution passed easily.

Gorter said pursuing this market niche makes sense, given that Canada’s free trade deals with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will soon give many countries access to Canadian dairy consumers.

“We’re not arguing whether it (GM free) is better or worse,” Gorter said.

“But if we can’t supply that milk to them, it will never be a Manitoban or Canadian product…. There are two processors, or three processors in Manitoba, that have been talking about it (non-GM milk).”

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A producer at the Winnipeg meeting said Manitoba farmers already produce organic milk, which is non-GM. Therefore, another product category is unnecessary.

Dave Eto, chief executive officer of the British Columbia, Dairy Association, supports that argument.

“This is a further segmentation of something that is already happening.”

Eto said it’s possible a small processor in his province may produce non-GM milk and cheese because it is a “hot bed” for anti-GMO sentiment.

“We’ve had a number of municipalities that have been pushing for non-GMO designations,” he said.

“(But) I’m not aware of (a) non-GMO labeled dairy product.”

Eto said putting a non-GM label on a milk carton is more complicated than “slapping on stickers.”

“You are required, as a processor, to follow the laws of how you can label products,” he said.

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“There potentially could be some claims issues … the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has to consider before they’ll allow someone to make those types of claims.”

Gorter hasn’t decided if he will switch to non-GM feed, but he said it would be possible to do because of the availability of non-GM corn, soybeans and canola in Manitoba.

“I know a canola crusher in Ste. Agathe … when I presented my canola last year in December, they were shut down for non-GMO canola and I couldn’t bring my canola in.”

Dairy producers would have to go through a one year milk cycle feeding a non-GM ration to qualify as non-GM.

It means GM-free milk wouldn’t be on store shelves until 2017 if Manitoba dairy farmers and processors were to immediately pursue the niche market.

“I know there are (dairy) producers out there that will start feeding non-GMO corn and beans, as soon as Jan. 1, 2016,” Gorter said.

  • British Columbia is a major market for organic food, but organic milk, cheese and yogurt represents a tiny slice of the total dairy production in the province.
  • B.C. dairy farmers produced 61.2 million litres of milk in October. Of that, 2.3 million litres were organic.
  • Organic market share for October was 3.76 percent.
  • A spokesperson for the B.C. Milk Marketing Board said the annual percentage is slightly higher and probably close to four percent.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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