The dairy processing industry employs over 24,500 Canadians in over 470 production facilities across the country. It is a $16 billion a year industry, which accounts for close to 16% of the total shipments in the Canadian food manufacturing industry. The dairy industry as a whole—including both processors and dairy farmers—is the largest of the Canadian supply managed sectors.

In some countries, including the United States and a number in the European Union, the production of dairy is subsidized by the government. This is not the case in Canada.

Rather, the Canadian dairy industry is supply managed. Supply management is a regulatory policy which ensures supply does not exceed demand. It means that Canadian dairy producers are provided with a stable income, dairy processors always have a reliable source of milk, and consumers can expect relatively stable prices at the grocery store regardless of season.


The Canadian Dairy Commission Dairy Ingredients Information Library provides searchable information on Canadian dairy processors and their products.

Dairy products imported into Canada are subject to the controls under Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act which is managed by Global Affairs Canada. For more information, please refer to the Global Affairs Canada website.

There are several steps to starting in the dairy processing industry. In all cases, if you wish to manufacture and market dairy products within your province, you should contact your provincial regulatory authority (e.g. in Quebec: MAPAQ, in Ontario: OMAFRA, in British Columbia: BCCDC, etc.). As a food manufacturer, should you consider selling interprovincially or internationally, you will need to register with and meet the federal requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. To obtain milk, contact your provincial milk marketing board.


Some dairy products, like many of the packaged foods that you buy, contain food additives. These additives play many different, but important roles in the taste and quality and help to extend the shelf-life of perishable products, like dairy. For example, carrageenan is used as an emulsifier in processing, and helps to stabilize and thicken products like sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream and others. Any additives are regulated by the Food and Drug Regulations and must undergo thorough testing to ensure that they are safe for consumption. For more information about permitted food additives, refer to Health Canada’s Lists of Permitted Food Additives.


Cheese can be classified into two broad categories: “natural cheese” and “processed cheese”.

“Natural cheese” is a term used to describe the food that is made by coagulating milk and other dairy ingredients with bacterial cultures. The liquid (whey) is removed, leaving semi-solid curds to which salt, enzymes and other flavourings may be added. This process creates many different natural cheese “varieties” that can be further classified by their firmness and ripening characteristics, for example: 

  • Unripened – cottage cheese, cream cheese 
  • Soft – Brie, Camembert
  • Semi-soft – Muenster, Roquefort
  • Firm – Colby, Cheddar, Brick, Stilton, Swiss
  • Blue veined – Blue, Gorgonzola
  • Hard – Parmesan
  • Pasta filata (stretched curd) – Mozzarella, Provolone

“Processed cheese” is a term used to describe the food that is made by combining one or more “natural cheeses” with emulsifying salts and other ingredients. The mixture then undergoes a cooking process to create a new type of cheese with different characteristics and properties. Processed cheeses can be spread, sliced or shredded for use cold or melted in casseroles, sandwiches, nachos, hamburgers, etc. 

The terms “natural cheese” and “processed cheese” are well-established terms that the dairy industry has been using in Canada and internationally for many decades. It is important to note that, in this context, the use and meaning of the term “natural cheese” does not and is not intended to convey the same meaning as the “natural” claim as referred to in the CFIA’s guidance.

Palm oil itself is not added to butter, nor are any palm-oil derived ingredients. In fact, butter is a very simple product and has a very short list of acceptable ingredients: milk, milk fat, and salt (for salted butter). These are standardized in Canada by regulations which require butter to contain at least 80% milk fat.  

However, concerns raised about the composition of butter in the past year have led to questions about the use of feed supplements for Canada’s dairy cattle which contain palmitic acid, which is derived from palm oil. DPAC is working with Dairy Farmers of Canada to establish a more complete understanding of the use of these supplements and their relation to potential changes to firmness of some butter.