In early February, Ontario dairy farmer Jerry Huigen posted a TikTok video showing how he was forced to dump 30,000 litres of milk because of supply management rules when he produced more than his operation’s January quota.
His post quickly went viral reaching more than 36 million views. Although it was later pulled from the platform, Huigen’s frustration over the dumped milk and his criticism of supply management sparked a national debate about milk quotas.
In the video, Huigen asked: “How do you guys dare to put this down in the market for $7 a litre when there’s a lot of single mothers with no extra money with a few kids to feed?
“We send a really good product and you just kind of tell us, ‘Well, throw it down the drain. Nobody sees it, it’s OK.’ But it’s not OK.”
Supply management for milk started in the 1970s to avoid overproduction, the Dairy Farmers of Canada says.
“At its core, supply management is about teamwork because farmers work together, agreeing to terms and conditions that provide a stable and predictable supply of high-quality dairy,” the DFC states. “This helps reduce waste from farmers producing too much, and avoids consumers being unable to access the products they need if farmers were to produce too little.”
Dairy farmers dumping over-quota milk is meant to control product supply and keep prices stable. in the ensuing debate, several dairy farmers tried to explain how the system works to stabilize prices and producer incomes, but some said the rules kept the price of milk high when there are ways to make it more affordable, especially in times of rising food prices.
Félix Dubois, who is a Metro grocery employee, said, even though he agrees that the price of milk is high, it doesn’t have a long shelf life.
“I think the farmer has a point. The products could be cheaper, but who knows — maybe we’d be the ones who end up throwing it away if we put too many on the shelves.”
Dubois said he can see both sides of the debate, but added: “The retailers are the ones who decide the price, and it all kind of falls into the whole supply and demand system.”
There are programs that put excess milk production to good use. The Ontario Milk Program delivers more than one million litres of milk each year to food banks across Ontario.
‘I think the farmer has a point. The products could be cheaper, but who knows — maybe we’d be the ones who end up throwing it away if we put too many on the shelves.’— Félix Dubois, grocery story employee
Laeticia-Lagacé Miller, who used to volunteer at a dairy farm, says, “I personally don’t remember them ever wasting that much product. However, I also believe that throwing away milk should be illegal.
“Cows are not machines — they can’t just stop producing milk at command.”
She said she agrees with Huigen that the prices should be more affordable. “If they can’t lower the prices in stores, fine — but find a way to give it to the people who really need it some other way then.”
Even though there are programs in place to help with that issue, Miller said she believes that there aren’t enough programs in place to completely avoid wasting milk. She said she believes farmers could find other solutions to avoid dumping milk.