Why ‘buy local’ Canadian dairy campaigns may be tricky to follow through
Many Canadians have spoken out pledging to continue to buy only Canadian dairy products following last month’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal announcement.
Under the newly negotiated deal, American dairy farmers get access to about 3.5 per cent of Canada’s approximately $16-billion annual domestic dairy market.
The deal hasn’t yet been ratified by any country, which can take months, meaning it will be a while before American milk products hit Canadian shelves.
But “buy local” campaigns have already sprouted up across the country, with dairy farmers asking Canadians to continue supporting their products.
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario explained to Canadians that packaging includes information about where the products are from.
“You can support the Canadian dairy industry by buying local dairy at the grocery store,” a tweet from the organization read.
Several farmers have also posted videos on social media with their cows, dubbing it the “milk challenge,” in an effort to gain Canadian support.
One such video, posted by Ontario farmer Ryan Wert earlier this month, has more than 66,000 views and 1,000 shares on Facebook.
And Canadians have reciprocated, saying their loyalty lies with nationally-made products.
“I ALWAYS buy Canadian. I wish stores would highlight Canadian products to make it easier when I’m in a hurry or don’t have my glasses with me,” one user commented on Wert’s Facebook video.
While the campaigns are gaining momentum, it’s unclear whether they will truly have an impact.
Marie-Claude Fortin, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia who studies the Canadian dairy system, explained that carrying through with “buy local” pledges can be tricky in this case.
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Fortin said those trying to follow through with the promise will first face the challenge of packaging.
“Dairy processing plants don’t have anything that forces them to disclose the source of the milk,” she said, explaining that organizations pledging to do so are doing it for marketing reasons, rather than regulatory reasons. That means some can opt out.
She added that for larger processing plants, it may be difficult to even differentiate between Canadian and American milk.
“Milk, which is going to be coming in bulk, is going to be processed in these huge plants,” Fortin explained.
“I am not sure that they’re going to be able to stop the production of Canadian milk and then just process U.S. milk. It’s most likely that it’s going to be blended.”
What that may do, Fortin explained, is provide a boost to smaller processing plants that are exclusively dealing with Canadian dairy.
“Smaller dairy processors may realize they have a niche, that they can offer something that is different from the big processors,” she said.
Another thing possibly working in favour of the “buy local” campaign is that prices of U.S. products likely won’t be lower.
Several experts have agreed prices won’t change dramatically.
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Douglas Porter, chief economist at the Bank of Montreal, said that the trade deal changes “may have a small impact” on dairy prices, notably cheese.
“I wouldn’t overplay the impact,” Porter noted.
“Recall that the quota increases will be phased in over a six-year period. As well, note that dairy prices have already dipped slightly in the past year, according to the official CPI from StatsCan.”
“That might add fuel to the fire,” Fortin said, explaining that with similar prices, there will be less temptation to buy U.S. products.
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