Diafiltered milk confusion heats up

The House of Commons agriculture committee wants the issue of diafiltered milk dealt with sooner rather than later.

For weeks, opposition MPs have been raising the concern about milk protein imports in committee and during question period. The Liberal majority voted down a May 3 NDP motion to deal with the issue immediately but then introduced a committee motion calling for a meeting within 18 days and for the minister, Lawrence MacAulay, to report to the committee about next steps as soon as he is able.

Increasing imports of diafiltered milk, or milk proteins, for use in cheese manufacturing has cost Canadian processors $18 million, said NDP member Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

“Diafiltered milk is not used in the United States to make cheese,” said Quebec Conservative MP Jacques Gourde at a committee meeting. “It was invented so that it could cross the Canadian border. It is a scandal.”

Milk proteins, including diafiltered milk, can be imported under the North American Free Trade Agreement as long as they contain 85 percent or more milk protein on a dry matter basis, MacAulay said.

The issue is the use of the products to make cheese.

Dairy Farmers of Canada executive director Caroline Emond told the committee that dry milk proteins have given way to liquid forms over the past five or six years.

“Under the cheese compositional standards for Canada, when making cheese it is required that a minimum percentage of the protein used in the cheese-making be sourced from milk,” she said.

“The percentage required varies from cheese to cheese.

For example, cheddar must have a minimum 83 percent of its casein from milk and a maximum of 17 percent from ingredients.

However, some processors are using liquid milk proteins as part of the milk requirements rather than as ingredients.

Emond said the ingredients enter tariff-free even though they are considered under the dairy chapter of NAFTA.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for enforcing the standards.

Processors are equally concerned about the escalating imports. Agropur recently announced it would no longer use diafiltered milk.

At committee, the co-operative’s senior vice-president of institutional affairs and communications, Dominique Benoit, said Canadian skim milk not needed to make cheese or yogurt is either dried for skim milk powder or sold for animal feed.

However, the imports have resulted in skim milk dumping.

“The deliberate confusion must end,” he said.

The Canada Border Services Agency considers diafiltered milk an ingredient, but the CFIA considers it milk when it comes to processing.

“The federal government has an important role to play,” Benoit said.

“Diafiltered milk should be treated as an ingredient in the cheese and yogurt composition standards and should therefore have to respect the letter and the spirit of the standards. As well, verification rules need to be strengthened to ensure compliance with the standards.”

Frederic Seppey, agricultural trade negotiator and assistant deputy minister, has told the committee that the sector’s concerns are understood.

“The standards were never designed to allow the unrestricted use of what is known as diafiltered milk in cheese,” he said.

“Its use is allowed but in limited quantities. The government is working to make sure the rules are clear to everyone.”

The committee motion urges the government to recognize the economic losses from imports and the industry call for rapid resolution.

Meanwhile, the agriculture committee adopted a budget of $6,900 to study Canada’s preferential status under the American Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

June meetings will focus on bee health monitoring and the next agricultural policy framework.

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