Although we explained that this was a by-product of food for humans, that it adds value, and that its use has always been in compliance with government standards, its use in dairy farming nevertheless generated substantial consumer reactions. Consumers were not interested in these nuances. Some are already seeking to eliminate palm oil from their diet due to its environmental impact. Others have also reacted to messaging and comments that cast doubt on our practices and the quality of our dairy products.
With the growing concerns about the environment and animal welfare, consumers are increasingly critical and selective about the products they consume. They are demanding, have expectations, and make choices that are based on their values and ideologies. They question food sources, assess quality, compare products, and expect best practices. More than ever, we must take these consumer trends into account to remain competitive and grow, because consumer behaviour is evolving rapidly. Times have changed. The era when price was the only decision-making factor for many consumers is long gone. According to experts in the field, the decision whether or not to buy a product depends both on rational factors, such as price and quality, and irrational factors, such as emotion and perception. They also advise that to create a lasting attachment and build a relationship of trust with our consumers, we must truly listen to them and meet their expectations.
Our organization has taken this issue very seriously. The status quo was no longer an option; it would have eroded public confidence in our industry and our products, a losing situation for all of us. It was our responsibility to respond quickly and take concerted and meaningful action to show that we are listening. This is why we have asked farmers to stop using products containing palm oil-derived supplements in cattle feed. This decision was certainly made quickly, but it was also a continuation of similar initiatives that had already begun. An example is our investment in research, including the search for alternatives to manage cows’ lack of energy at the beginning of their lactation. We have also invested substantial efforts in the development of tools such as ProfiLab, which help obtain a better fatty acid profile. Finally, our payment policy, which will begin on August 1, 2021, was developed with the objective of not introducing changes to the profile of milk components, tangible proof of our existing commitment to remove these supplements from our cows’ diet.
This new way of doing things, like any change, is certainly leading to a period of uncertainty. However, we must bear in mind that concerted collaborative action by all farmers and the industry at large will enable us to meet the challenges in adapting to this new reality. This is why we asked the feed manufacturers to adjust their recipes and engaged agricultural consultants to support us in these changes. Our organization, the Association québécoise des industries de nutrition animale et céréalière (AQINAC) and Lactanet have begun pan-industry work to enable farmers to meet these consumer expectations. We must be accepting of consultants’ expertise. They are there to help us adjust. We will also remain informed on the findings of the expert committee on the issue, which was set up by Dairy Farmers of Canada. Its work has already begun.
The status quo was no longer an option; it would have eroded public confidence in our industry and our products, a losing situation for all of us. It was our responsibility to respond quickly and take concerted and meaningful action to show that we are listening.
Farmers have listened to consumers and launched initiatives to support alternatives. However, the debate on the use of palm oil is not limited to the dairy industry. We expect that the entire food industry will address the question, since palm oil is widely used in the human diet. The government and the processors must be consistent in their actions. They must apply reciprocity of standards to all imported dairy products and ingredients. Discussions are in progress and we will ensure that our voice is heard on this issue.
We are facing a major challenge: to maintain consumer confidence in our profession and our product. Consumers have a clear and unequivocal position. They don’t want palm oil-derived supplements to be used in dairy farming. It is up to our organization, as well as each of us, to be proactive and take the lead. Our proAction certification program gives us the means to implement concrete continuous improvement efforts. We can reassure the public that our livestock and environmental management practices are healthy and responsible and convince them that we are committed to practicing sustainable production of high-quality, safe, and nutritious food.
In implementing each of the issues and decisions made by the Board of Directors, the elected officers are remaining faithful to the organization’s mission: To bring together Quebec milk producers by providing leadership in marketing high-quality milk, which meets the expectations of society, and to ensure the sustainable development of dairy farms. This is what guided us when we decided to stop using palm oil-derived supplements in our cattle feed. The decision to take a leadership position on this issue has been recognized. We can be proud that we listen to our consumers and demonstrate our commitment to always strive to do better.
Daniel Gobeil, ChairmanTélécharger l’éditorial du président