Using requirements over best practices, involving animal welfare groups, and taking a multi-species approach, Canada’s “Dairy Code” for animal welfare will differ sharply from the National Dairy F.A.R.M. program. But the Canadian system is still a few years from full implementation, while F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) reached the 70% participation threshold in the U.S. in early 2013.

One stark contrast that bears noting is Canada’s top-down industry structure, with a supply management system implemented by the nationally overarching Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) organization. While in the U.S., rules for farmers can come from either the processors customers or the processors themselves, DFC’s provincial representatives send one rulebook down for farmers to follow – and if they don’t follow it they have no other processors to which they can ship milk.

Multi-species program covers all livestock

The Canadian “Dairy Code” is part of a broader coalition with animal welfare groups, enforcement, government, and farmers all under one umbrella, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). The dairy code was born in 2008, after 28 years of development in care guides for all livestock species. There are over a dozen species identified, plus poultry, including everything from bison to fox and cattle to mink. NFACC holds “Codes of Practice” for each species that must be followed, along with a code called “Transport.”

Within the Dairy Cattle code, released in 2009, there is a 6-section and 12-appendix guide to caring for dairy cattle. The 65-page book holds a list of requirements, like “housing must allow cattle to easily stand up, lie down, adopt normal resting postures, and have visual contact with other cattle,” and best practices such as “design facilities to allow for easy moving and grouping of animals.”

Within the Canadian dairy code, there are 64 requirements, also including no tail docking and a working veterinary relationship. In addition, there are 283 recommended best practices.

Canada’s welfare “Code” contrasts National F.A.R.M. programMeanwhile, the National Dairy F.A.R.M. program refers to itself as a “wide-ranging educational resource for dairy farmers,” with 77 pages of materials. National Dairy F.A.R.M. relies on a checklist rather than the requirements, and is therefore able to report that:

  • 99% of farms observe animals daily for health treatment
  • 93% of farms have protocols developed with veterinarians
  • 67% of farm operators apply antiseptic to calf navels at birth

Similar goals

In a slide-set released in May, Dairy Farmers of Canada explains that the revised Dairy Code will aid in assuring buyers, celebrating farmers, continuing improvement in animal welfare, and an exchange of knowledge and technology. It also specifically notes that it first wants to improve the animal care of the bottom 5% to 25% of farms.

Also different is the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) program, a HACCP-based system (Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points) developed in the 1990s that some would argue put Canada’s system a step above the U.S. inspection program. However, only 85% of farms are currently compliant. CQM is expected to have 100% compliance by the time the new Dairy Code is implemented.

Still developing

The Canadian program also admits it was built in 2008-2009, a time when an assurance program was not perceived, nor with the rigorous HACCP approach that CQM went through.

At this point, shortly after a well-publicized animal rights video rocked the nation’s dairy industry and its largest dairy farm, Canada may have different priorities in mind. One pilot run of the inspections on 34 farms was held in spring 2013, and another pilot will be held this fall.

The current goal for Canadian dairies is to roll out the program in 2015, and get every farm certified by 2018. In the U.S., major cooperatives and processors signed-on early, requiring their patrons to complete the program to bring the voluntary system to nearly 50% participation in 2011, within a year of opening a enrollment.

But the proactive approach continues for Canadian farms. The animal care initiative is just one of six initiatives underway. The first two included meeting milk quality goals, followed by CQM standards. 100% of farms meet milk quality goals, and CQM enrollment should be 100% by 2016.

The next initiative to be completed is traceability, with program standards being developed now, and completion set in 2017. Looking forward, the industry hopes the animal care code compliance will be complete by 2019, a biosecurity initiative by 2021, and environmental standards by 2023.

View the full slide-set here: Implementing the Code (PDF)

Sources: Dairy Farmers of Canada, National Dairy FARM program