No special rules for supplying Fairlife

Peterborough milk processor remains on track for mid-2020 completion

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Milk currently available to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario from conventional producers, will be delivered to Coca-Cola’s Fairlife processing plant in Peterborough, as soon as it enters the commissioning phase of development.

Representatives of DFO and Coca-Cola Canada made those assertions when contacted recently by Farmtario.

Why it matters: The plant will employ 35 people and serve as a significant new market for Ontario cow’s milk.

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Commissioning takes place before full production, as the plant’s operators ensure all systems are smoothly running. DFO would not provide anyone to speak to the issue, but an email from a media relations person said the organization “has been assured (Fairlife) will be taking Canadian milk during their plant’s commissioning period and thereafter while in full production.”

It will be DFO’s job to ensure deliveries to Fairlife — currently under construction adjacent to Coca Cola’s Minute Maid juice plant, and scheduled for completion in spring 2020 at an estimated cost of $85 million.

It will do so, the DFO representative said, either through adjusting shipments of milk within Ontario or drawing on supplies from other provinces within the P5 pool (also including Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island).

When this happens, it should be welcome news for supply management proponents, given that Fairlife dairy products processed in Michigan using American milk are being sold in Canada under a temporary Supplementary Import Permit granted to the company by Global Affairs Canada.

A recent update from Coca-Cola Canada’s communications director Shannon Denny revealed “hiring has started for the key local management/operations roles” at the plant, with four leadership roles already filled and other positions currently advertised at cocacola.ca.

DFO has said the milk heading to Fairlife will be from the conventional pool, with no premium price being paid.

“Canadian milk standards are excellent and we will be sourcing milk from the general pool once we begin operations,” said Denny.

In the U.S., Fairlife controls which farms supply milk to its processing plants. The company’s website states that supplying farms are subject to “well-planned auditing processes…conducted independently and routinely,” including “regular third-party unannounced audits,” with an aim to “reinforce our commitment to our standards of daily on-farm animal care.”

While much of what’s covered on the U.S.-based website would be covered under DFO’s existing Grade A licence inspection, those inspections are not unannounced. Dairy Farmers of Canada’s proAction program also provides independent auditing of several areas including on-farm animal care.

As well, some items listed on the U.S. website, including “each farm has veterinarian oversight to provide frequent wellness checks,” are not required by DFO for Grade A certification.

However, a company website promoting Fairlife in Canada states the milk used by the company “has low somatic cell counts” and “proudly meets Canadian regulatory requirements.”

Denny said the domestic dairy sector should welcome the company’s arrival in Canada, because “approximately 40 per cent of Fairlife sales came from outside of the dairy category.”

Until the Peterborough plant is up and running, though, it seems likely the welcome will be lukewarm in some parts of the country.

In March 2019, the New Brunswick Farm Producers Marketing Commission rejected Fairlife’s milk dealer licence application for that province, arguing it would not be “in the best interest of the public or the dairy trade,” reported CBC news.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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