Lino Saputo (pic: ABC)
Earlier this week, dairy processing giant Saputo announced it was getting tough on animal welfare. Well, more precisely, it was getting tough on the dairy farmers supplying it milk.
The announcement was greeted by farmers on Twitter, both in Saputo’s native Canada and here in Australia where it owns Warrnambool Cheese & Butter, with a degree of skepticism.
The common theme of the discussion was that farmers were already meeting the standards trumpeted by Saputo. The exercise was simply one of a processor profiteering off the backs of dairy farmers, yet again. But it’s worth remembering that Saputo’s move followed a case of a farmer doing the wrong thing as Lino Saputo told the ABC:
Mr Saputo said an incident in Canada motivated the work behind this new policy.
“One of the farms that was supplying us milk had a recorded incident of animal abuse. Here in Canada we are buying milk from the milk marketing board, and typically we don’t know where that milk is coming from,” he said.
“As it turns out, the milk from that farm that had some abuse was being delivered to our plant. “We tried to rally with the dairy industry to have some stronger practices in place, but quite frankly we found ourselves alone in this process and we felt like we needed to take a leadership role.”
Saputo is not on its own. Fonterra has quietly begun animal welfare audits on the farms of its suppliers. Perhaps coincidentally, its own customer, Nestle, threw its considerable global weight around earlier this year, demanding a set of welfare standards from suppliers that has already seen scores of Australian dairy farms whose milk eventually reaches Nestle inspected.
I’d be willing to bet the farm that Saputo, Fonterra and Nestle are the tip of the iceberg. As farmer Shelby Anderson (@cupslinga) tweeted, “it’s society, not a foreign Co” that is demanding transparency and rigour around the way we farmers care for our cows.
The RSPCA is already considering accrediting milk for animal welfare, as it does with eggs. The idea is rejected by peak dairy body, the Australian Dairy Farmers, because it fears the RSPCA marketing will imply most dairy farming is not up to scratch. It’s a fair point that leaves me feeling conflicted because, on the other hand, it’s great to put a value on good animal care (err, beyond having healthy, productive animals and being able to sleep at night).
Just as the quality of Australian milk is taken for granted by Australian shoppers, they expect the cows to be treated well. I for one am pleased that Saputo and Fonterra have been proactive to protect that reputation for kindness.
I only hope that the way we care for animals is marketed with the same sensitivity. A ghastly adversarial marketing campaign might make a quick buck but would leave everyone a loser.