A food supply expert says Canadian dairy boards are trying to keep milk waste a hush-hush issue while prices rise.

Dalhousie professor Sylvain Charlebois told True North milk farmers have long been dumping milk that exceeded their quotas, but the supply management fix is no longer appropriate while Canadians grapple with economic pressure.

“It’s been going on for years,” said Charlebois. “But today in 2023 with a heightened focus on climate change… and the fact that food prices are skyrocketing, the context is completely different. I don’t think that there is a social license for milk dumping anymore.”

Canadian dairy boards are loath to acknowledge the issue, Charlebois said, making dumping an “elephant in the room.”

“Dairy boards will always do [two] things. One, they’ll pretend that food waste is not a problem. Two, if there are reports that some farmers are dumping, they’ll either claim that it’s unusual or that the farmer is incompetent.”

The issue is not unusual, and farmers are not incompetent, Charlebois said. According to the professor, it’s practical for farmers to overshoot their quota rather than to undercut it. 

The only unusual element about dumping, Charlebois said, was when a dairy farmer recently videotaped and publicized it.

Supply management is a system that allows dairy, poultry and eggs sectors to limit the supply of their products to what Canadians are expected to consume. The belief behind the system is that a limited supply will ensure predictable and stable prices.

Charlebois told True North that Canadian dairy boards want to keep the issue quiet because the Canadian public would be outraged by the extent of waste taking place while consumers face soaring prices.

While CTV News reported last month that milk prices rose 13% year-over-year, Charlebois on Thursday announced his combined research with staff at McGill University will soon show that more than 300 million litres of milk are poured down the drain every year in Canada. 

Dairy Farmers of Canada spokesperson Lucie Boileau told True North that farmers are in agreement.

“No dairy farmer wants to see a drop of milk disposed,” she said. “You would hear that from all dairy farmers.”

True North reached out to the Canadian Dairy Commission, but did not receive a reply before deadline.

The solution to Canada’s milk dumping problem, Charlebois said, is to make dumping illegal and to create a plan that powderizes or exports excess milk – without rewarding farmers for producing surpluses.

Sylvain Charlebois is the director of Agri-Food Analytics Lab, a centre for global food supply and sustainability research at Dalhousie University.