Canada’s Food Guide (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en) was updated in 2019, eliminating the four food groups and emphasizing instead the importance of fruits and veggies, whole-grain foods, and protein to one’s daily diet. Recommended servings were replaced with four guidelines on healthy eating including being mindful of your eating habits, the importance of cooking and preparing meals at home, enjoying food, and eating with others. An important addition: the importance of drinking a glass of water with your meals. A noticeable omission: a daily dose of dairy.
While the food guide may have changed, the importance and benefits of milk remain the same. Milk is full of important nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D, benefits bone health, helps reduce blood pressure, and supports the production of serotonin which helps with mood, appetite, and sleep.
In celebration of #WorldMilkDay we count down four benefits of Canadian dairy in support of dairy farmers across the country.
#1 – Canadian Milk is Sampled, Traceable, and Tested
From the dairy farm to the truck to Canadian tables, Canadian dairy is traced and tested. Milk truck drivers are milk-grade trained, inspecting both the look and smell of the milk. They take sterile samples before even loading it onto their trucks. The samples taken are used to test and ensure that the milk is free of antibiotics and it meets Canadian standards. To put this measurement into perspective, out of approximately 2.2 million pickups per year in Canada, less than 0.009 per cent of the samples test positive for antibiotics. These results show that Canadian milk is under both the care and professional supervision of qualified individuals.
#2 – Canadian Milk is Antibiotic Free!
In Canada, antibiotics have no place in our dairy processing system. All milk is tested prior to reaching the processing plant. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) examines the analysis, measuring in parts per BILLION, which is equal to detecting a single drop in an Olympic-sized pool!
Canadian dairy farmers also ensure that cows only consume what is meant for them and use antibiotics very judiciously – only when cows are sick and animal welfare is a concern. Farmers ensure feed is safe by proper handling, labelling and storage. This close eye on the cattle’s needs guarantees the animals receive the nutrition they need to live a happy, healthy life.
Prevention is top of mind for Canadian dairy farmers. Their proactive initiative guides dairy farmers to work with a preventative mindset when working on their farms, encouraging farmers to take all the necessary precautions in order to prevent milk contamination. For example, farmers have access to ‘home kits’ to test a cow’s milk to ensure it is free of antibiotics.
Emily Den Haan, who runs Sheldon Creek Dairy Farm in Loretto, Ont., confirms the strict measures of the Canadian dairy industry. Starting with the food the cows eat to the processing plant, the industry ensures Canadian milk is antibiotic-free and upholds a high-quality standard for all milk, making it one of the most rigorously tested and certifiably safe foods on the market! “Every batch of milk is tested for antibiotics, hormones, and it all goes back to the farm. We all have big accountability because of that system,” she says.
#3: Canadian Dairy is Sustainable
Canadian dairy farmers were practicing sustainability before it even became a common trend. “Farmers have been passing on farms for generations and in order for farms to be passed on, they need to be sustainable,” Den Haan says. She is a third-generation farmer. “That means farmers need to ensure the lands and animals are healthy in order to continue the farm’s operations.”
Many Canadian dairy farmers feel responsible for the land they work on and, therefore, sustainability is an ongoing consideration. Throughout the years milk has become increasingly more sustainable through innovative steps taken by dairy farmers, including reusing water and minimizing food spoilage. Through supply management, a Canadian agricultural framework prevents overproduction. Instead of making products in abundance, dairy farmers meet the needs of Canadian consumers. Canadian dairy farmers have also adopted diverse crop rotations to improve the soil and revitalize agricultural land in order to reduce water supply. This ensures biodiversity is brought back into the ground and reduces greenhouse gases.
An innovative step the Den Haan family has incorporated, along with many other farmers, is the shift to ‘robotic farming’. In this case, machines milk the cows granting them autonomy over when they want to be milked. This has resulted in many health benefits for the cows, increased milk production, and provides farmers with more time to complete other daily tasks.
#4: Canadian Dairy Farmers Care
Canadian farmers ensure their cows receive quality care and are happy and healthy. After all – happy cow, happy life! Canadian dairy farmers keep tabs on the health status of every cow with the assistance of companies such as Valacta specializing in testing, data management, and analytics. A cow’s milk may be tested as often as six times per year, meaning that over 6 MILLION tests are conducted on Canadian farms every year!
“The majority of farms in Canada are run by families rather than huge corporations, unlike in other areas of the world,” Den Haan says. “We have something to be proud of in Canada because we add that personal touch to the care for our animals.”
Canadian dairy farmers also work closely with veterinarians to manage the health and wellbeing of their dairy cattle. In addition to preventing sickness, they must prove that they work closely with vets before being allowed to sell milk and they are also required to record all incidents of illness. At Sheldon Creek Dairy Farms they have two vets that come in every two weeks to examine herd health, checking that the cows are clean and healthy, and they conduct pregnancy checks.
“We’re always trying to be proactive and make sure the animals are exposed to the least amount of risk,” Emily Den Haan continues. When a cow does fall ill, just like all living beings, they may receive antibiotic treatment while continuing to be milked. However, the milk produced is placed in a separate container which is then discarded. This continues until the cow has metabolized the antibiotics during a withdrawal period. Health Canada maintains strict and lengthy withdrawal times for sick cows to ensure not only that the milk is free from antibiotics but to also ensure that the cow remains healthy.
“We can all be really proud that Canadian farms are doing a great job protecting animal welfare, sustainability, (looking after our) environment and just producing high-quality milk,” Den Haan concludes.
To support Canadian dairy farms, such as Sheldon Creek Dairy, look for the blue cow and the “Made in Canada” tagline when grocery shopping or visit local farms (with permission!) to see where your milk comes from!
Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.