Milk and Mother Nature are under attack in Canada

Photo by Wilson Hui, CC BY 2.0

Many Canadians like to start the day off with a milky brew at one of nearly 4,000 Tim Hortons coffee shops across Canada. Some of us have felt good about the fact that our beverage contained an emblem certifying “100% Canadian milk.” After all, the Brazilian-owned “Timmy’s” has long hoisted the Canadian flag as part of its brand-building efforts. 

However, unknown to most, there is a separate distribution system that gets Tim Hortons bottled iced coffees to some 10,000 corner stores, supermarkets and gas bars. These drinks are made with milk from the United States. It’s supplied by U.S. based Fairlife/Coca-Cola. Ottawa quietly gave its blessing to this plan back in 2018 by providing a five year licence to the corporations involved. Last to know about this scheme – and only after it was a fait accompli – were Canadian dairy farmers. Many Tim Hortons iced coffee fans still don’t know.

As climate catastrophe beckons, hundreds of thousands of single-use plastic iced coffee bottles have flooded into Canada’s mishmash of recycling programs. As a National Geographic study published just after the arrival of the new drinks made clear, “A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled – most becoming trash and litter.” Before issuing the licence to Tim Hortons, our federal government knew that there is no disputing that climate disaster lies ahead. The just-released 2019 Liberal Platform has a section titled, “A Ban on Single Use Plastics,” illustrative of the fact that top government officials continue to be very worried about the damage being done by single-use plastics, both here and overseas.

At the recent UN Climate Action Summit in New York, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg lit into world leaders for their “business as usual” approach in the face of the environmental catastrophe. The next Canadian government will need to act quickly to review the federal licensing of the Tim Hortons deal before millions more single-use plastic bottles get discarded along roads and waterways in this country.

Along with the garbage consequences for Canada, the imported U.S. milk product will also contribute to the degradation of agricultural land, thereby supporting harmful practices of the U.S. agriculture model for dairy. This U.S. factory farm model is also fuelling the demise of the small-scale farmer south of the border.

This disturbing year-old federal licensing agreement with Tim Hortons represents a corporate end-run around Canada’s supply management system, a 50 year-old dairy arrangement has brought price stability to small Canadian producers through quotas and import controls. It is not surprising that even today the average size of a Canadian dairy herd is less than 100 cows. This stands in marked contrast to the U.S.’s mega milk production platforms where the number of cows kept in close quarters with no access to green pastures often surpasses 30,000. 

The ecological impacts of such factory farms in the U.S. are profound, as are the risks passed on to Canadians who ingest milk laced with antibiotics to control inevitable outbreaks of disease. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, boosted in part by the use of antibiotics as preventive agents, constitutes an alarming medical crisis. Past campaigning by the Council of Canadians and other organizations has meant that Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), legal in the States, has not been permitted in milk produced in Canada. 

In addition to the environmental and health-related dangers of this flood of milk from south of the border, this deal has meant that Canadian dairy farmers are missing out on an additional source of income. The federal government admits that concessions it made in recent trade agreements have hit the farm community especially hard, promising compensation. The last straw for Canada’s dairy producers and consumers looms if, following the October 21 federal election, NAFTA 2:0 is ratified. Then this nightmare scenario would become common practice. As Greta Thunberg said, “How dare you.”

This guest blog was written by Rick Arnold, Chair of the Trade Group of the Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians.