Dairy producers are revamping the Canadian Quality Milk program by adding protocols for animal care, on-farm food safety, traceability, biosecurity, and environmental sustainability.
The new national accreditation program, called ProAction, was designed with consumers in mind, said Mike Slomp, industry and member services manager with Alberta Milk.
“ProAction is about the social licence to operate, and helps producers to earn the trust of society,” said Slomp. “This is a big part of us trying to earn the trust of consumers in regards to the products we produce.”
That trust was shaken this summer when Mercy For Animals Canada released an undercover video showing animal abuse — including cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes — at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, the country’s largest dairy farm.
“The Chilliwack incident was a reminder to us that it’s important to have protocols in place to help producers so they and their staff know about appropriate animal care,” said Slomp.
Dairy Farmers of Canada is currently in the second phase of a pilot testing a brand new animal care system model that looks at animal injury score, hygiene, body condition score, and lameness. A number of farms in the province are testing the animal care model.
“If you can do an assessment of an animal on these four elements, that’s pretty much an overall assessment on the status of the care of that animal,” said Slomp.
The milk quality component is already established, with penalties for poor quality and provincial regulations ensuring bacteria levels are at an acceptable level and there are no antibiotic residues. The on-farm food safety requires keeping detailed records based on HAACP (hazard analysis and critical control points) protocols ranging from milk temperature records to dates when antibiotics are administered.
The traceability component builds on record-keeping that has long been standard practice in the industry, said Slomp.
“Identification has always been a key thing for dairy producers, since they rely so much on genetics for herd improvement,” he said. “There’s a lot of artificial insemination in dairy, so you’re forever tracking the mother and her offspring.”
The biosecurity component involves tracking visitors and on-farm service providers and even movement from one barn to another on the farm, while the environmental regulations mirror provincial standards already in place.
“We have a pretty robust set of regulations in Alberta,” said Slomp. “It deals primarily with manure management, and helps producers understand critical handling measures that need to be in place.”
ProAction received unanimous support from all provinces last year and there’s a 10-year time frame for implementing it.
“The support for the program is unanimous, but less than enthusiastic because we’re still not sure how it’s going to be implemented,” said Jeff Nonay, a dairy producer from Legal.
“We were such early adopters of CQM (Canadian Quality Milk) and we were waiting for the East to catch up on that one. Alberta wants to drive ahead, but we don’t want to be running quite as far ahead as we did with CQM.”
While it’s important to provide consumers with information, it’s not a given that proAction will boost trust as most people won’t understand technical terms such as animal lameness or body condition score, said Nonay.
“I think there’s still a lot of gap between a program like proAction and how it will translate to consumer support or understanding for what we do,” he said.
“I don’t know that this is a starting point for a conversation with consumers. We have industry that is way ahead on these issues, but where do you start at a consumer level?… What’s the translation to someone in the grocery store who doesn’t even care to come out to a farm? They just want to know that things are done right.”
The program’s designers have widely consulted dairy producers in meetings across the country, said Slomp.
“One of the principles of proAction is that it has to be designed and built by dairy producers for dairy producers,” he said. “We’ve had some really excellent sessions at these design meetings as we talk to producers and try to figure things out.”