Quebec dairy farmers demand action on diafiltered milk

The farmers are coming to Ottawa.

At the time of writing, a convoy of Quebec dairy farmers is about to start driving their tractors to Ottawa for a June 2 rally on Parliament Hill, where they expect to be joined by Ontario farmers.

The rally comes one month after Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced he would meet with Canadian dairy farmers within 30 days to discuss compensation for concessions made under the Canada-European Union trade deal and Canadian imports of diafiltered milk — a U.S. milk protein.

The outcome of that meeting has yet to be made public.

A few cows are expected to make an appearance too, marking the second time in nine months that bovines have strutted their stuff in Ottawa’s downtown core. Hundreds of dairy farmers, some leading cows, protested the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership in September.

While concerns about the TPP continue, (a Conservative compensation package remains under Liberal review), the June 2 rally is focused on the diafiltered milk issue.

Canadian dairy farmers say they are losing millions of dollars because Canadian cheese processors are importing milk solids from the United States.

Under Canadian regulations, the Canadian Border Services Agency considers diafiltered milk as a protein, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency considers it as milk.

The Liberals promised to fix the issue during the federal election campaign, but it remains unresolved.

The government response to the rally will likely be watched closely, particularly by those in agriculture.

After nearly eight months in office, Canada’s agriculture community is still trying to figure out the Liberals’ intentions for the file.

The new government, while heavily urban-based, appears interested in hearing from farmers, say stakeholders.

With patience waning, farmers at June 2 rally expect concrete action on the diafiltered milk file. Many involved say more promises of government consultation will simply not suffice.

The event also provides a chance to remind and educate people about Canada’s agriculture industry.

After all, it’s not every day cows and tractors are lined up in front of Parliament Hill.

Coincidentally, the dairy farmers’ latest rally falls on another agriculture-centred day in Canada’s capital city.

The Mayor’s Rural Expo, an annual event put on by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, is also being held that day. The festivities are meant to highlight Ottawa’s rural residents. Eighty percent of land within the city of Ottawa is considered rural — a statistic sure to stun much of the city’s urban population.

Celebrity milking competitions, a pancake breakfast and a barbecue (with funds collected going to the Ottawa Food Bank) are planned.

Farmers will be on hand to showcase what agriculture has to offer, all while trying to bridge the urban/rural divide via public education.

The farmers are coming to Ottawa. Canadians, and their politicians, should take note.

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