Silence in response to a question says more than 1,000 words. It indicates that the responder is unable to or doesn’t want to give the answer. This is what has happened with Coca-Cola’s fairlife milk representatives and myself.
Fairlife milk is the mega-beverage company’s latest foray into drinkables. With a huge chunk of the soda business, as well as bottled water, why not dairy? Their product is ultra-filtered milk that claims to have lower lactose and high protein and the product that is sold in Canada is 100 % American milk.
Last Oct. 24, I found fairlife products were in Canadian stores across the country well before terms of the CUSMA free trade agreement had been agreed upon. Supposedly, this is an approved test project which, if accepted, will result in a plant built in Peterborough to employ Canadians and use Canadian milk. In an email to email@example.com, I asked these questions: Why not use Canadian milk for test marketing here (Canadian and American milk do not taste the same)? Will they guarantee there is no rBST or antibiotics in their milk? What standards and animal care are their farmers held to? And lastly, what happens to their farmers producing fairlife now if/when the Canadian plant is opened in 2020?
The same day I received a reply from “George,” stating none of their farmers use rBST and that antibiotics are used only when necessary and as per guidelines with milk withheld, etc. U.S. milk is produced to the same standards as Canadian. I was invited to write again if I have further questions.
The questions I wanted answered most of all, the standards and what will happen to their farmers, had not been addressed, I wrote again. Will they guarantee
100 % none of their milk contains rBST? Why was Canadian milk not used and can their farms meet the exact same standards and inspections as ours? And lastly, what happens to their farms if/when the plant starts here with Canadian milk?
The next response came from “Jennifer” on Nov. 19 but again addressed only the same questions as before. No guarantees given. I emailed again the same day with the unanswered or unsatisfactorily answered questions. If our inspectors walked into their barns today, would the majority pass? And what will happen to their milk producers in 2020 if Canadian milk fills their Canadian market?
Regarding that last question, there are only a few possibilities. One, the U.S. farmer contracts will be cancelled when the Peterborough plant opens and Canadian milk flows in. Two, their American milk has been grandfathered into this agreement and Canadian milk will only be used to fill any market growth of fairlife. Three, they foresee a dramatic increase in their American market which will take care of their farmers. Or four, fairlife will only have a small foothold in the Canadian market and therefore will never build a plant nor a new market for Canadian milk. Remember, our milk boards have been duped before.
Maybe it is because we are dairy farmers looking down the barrel at unforeseen cuts that the possible plight of the fairlife dairies concerns me. Would any farmer take on a contract for milk for only 18 months, then close up? I doubt it.
But whatever their plans are, fairlife and Coca-Cola are not saying, so I am assuming the worst, that Canadian milk will only be used for future growth of fairlife in Canada or the product will never gain a major foothold in Canada so will remain an import. With Canadian company Saputo’s Joyya ultra-filtered Canadian milk also on the market, those likelihoods seem most probable. I am certainly not holding my breath for better answers.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.