'Buy local' dairy campaign sparked by trade deal that allows more U.S. milk into Canada

The new trade deal allowing more U.S. milk to be sold in Canada has sparked a rallying cry to buy Canadian dairy. The message comes not only from dairy farmers but also from many Canadian consumers.

Consumers are posting pledges on social media to buy only domestic dairy products

Quebec dairy farmer Lila Lee worries about the arrival of more U.S. dairy products in Canada. (Submitted by Lila Lee)

The latest trade deal allowing more U.S. milk to pour into Canada has sparked a rallying cry to buy Canadian dairy.

The message comes not only from dairy farmers upset over losing market share but also from many Canadian consumers pledging their support on social media.

"My heart hurts for the local industry," said software engineer Erum Tanvir in Winnipeg. Last week, she posted a Facebook message to buy Canadian milk.

Tanvir says she'll choose Canadian over U.S. dairy products — even if they're more expensive.

"I'm OK paying a little more as long as the money goes local."

A consumer-driven, buy-Canadian campaign first ignited in June after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on domestic steel and aluminum products.

The focus on dairy revved up following the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The trade deal, which came together on Sept. 30, grants U.S. farmers access to an extra 3.9 per cent of Canada's dairy market, estimates Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC).

The deal still needs to be ratified by lawmakers in the three countries before additional U.S. dairy exports start flowing into Canada. 

Sue Alexander in Breslau, Ont. plans to buy only Canadian dairy products to the best of her ability. (submitted by Sue Alexander)

"If you ask most Canadians, they would probably say that Canada got roughed up a little bit in this agreement," said Toronto retail consultant Bruce Winder.

"When this kind of thing happens, there are a number of Canadians who, their patriotism sort of rises to the top."

Sue Alexander's Facebook pledge to buy Canadian dairy, along with a picture of a cow, has netted more than 6,000 shares.

"I want the dairy farmers to know they're not on their own," said Alexander who lives in Breslau, Ont., and runs a dog training business.

"We got a raw deal in this agreement."

Look for the labels

The Canadian government has said farmers will be compensated for their losses. However, concerns remain about compensation details which have yet to be announced, and the long term impact of further opening up the market.

"It is a major blow to our industry," said Manitoba dairy farmer and DFC vice-president, David Wiens. His organization estimates all trade deals combined to date open up 18 per cent of Canada's dairy market to tariff-free imports, resulting in a $1.3 billion revenue loss to the domestic industry.

"It's death by 1,000 cuts." 

David Wiens, a Manitoba dairy farmer and vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, says the recent trade deal was 'a blow to the industry.' (submitted by David Wiens)

Wiens says a key line of defence at this point is to ramp up efforts to encourage Canadians to buy local.

Winder, the retail expert, warns that sometimes consumers make patriotic purchasing pledges without actually following through. But this time, they'll get reminders from the dairy industry.

Last week, both DFC and Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) posted messages on social media, indicating what labels to seek when searching for all-Canadian dairy products.

DFO also posted a fact sheet extolling the virtues of Canadian milk, including that it doesn't contain artificial growth hormones. Conversely, a minority of U.S. farmers inject cows with the substance to increase milk production.

"It's going to be ever more important for us to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace," said Wiens.

U.S. milk arrives in stores

Perhaps a sign of things to come, the buy-Canadian campaign has already sparked anger over U.S. milk brand fairlife which recently started appearing on store shelves.

"Every bit coming from outside, it hurts us," said dairy farmer, Lila Lee in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

After learning the milk was for sale in Canada, Lee headed to the grocery store to scope it out.

"I wanted to see what we're up against."

Some consumers and dairy farmers were rattled to discover fairlife, a U.S.-produced milk brand, in Canadians stores. Owner Coca-Cola says the milk will soon be 100% Canadian-made. (Coca-Cola)

Fairlife's owner, Coca-Cola said it launched the product in Canada in September and that it's building a production facility in Peterborough, Ont. That means come 2020, its milk — which is lactose-free and contains extra protein — will be 100 per cent Canadian.

Until then, the U.S.-based company said it has permission to temporarily import the product under a special permit. "This allows us to build a consumer base and demand for the product," said Coca-Cola Canada spokesperson Shannon Denny in an email.

The milk doesn't contain artificial growth hormones, she added.

Still, DFC says it would prefer Coca-Cola hold off until it's ready to bottle fairlife domestically.

"We would rather that they set up their plant here first and then use Canadian milk right from the start," said Wiens.

Dairy farmer Ryan Wert in Avonmore, Ont., posted a Facebook video last week, encouraging consumers to support Canadian dairy farmers. (Ryan Wert/Facebook)

Before the arrival of more U.S. milk, Canadian dairy farmers have started sending their own personal messages, asking for support.

Last week, farmer Ryan Wert in Avonmore, Ont., posted a Facebook video with his cows in the backdrop, encouraging Canadians to buy local.

He also nominated fellow farmers to do the same.

Wert's video has already garnered more than 60,000 views and at least three other farmers have responded by posting similar videos.

"I thought it was a good idea maybe to just try to put some names and faces to that so people could see really where their dairy comes from," said Wert.

"It is our livelihood and it is our future."

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.