FURIOUS milk producers across the country have called on consumers to boycott Parmalat products in the wake of the French-owned dairy company’s attack on its northern suppliers.
Producers are disgusted with Parmalat’s criticisms of the way Queensland farms are run and its belief it can survive without Queensland milk.
They’ve threatened a ‘name and shame’ campaign aimed to determine “if Parmalat can do without customers too”.
“It is disgusting to see farmers’ agents - the processors and supermarkets - taking milk from a viable export industry to rape a domestic industry and local farmers,” said chairman of collective bargaining group Premium Milk, Gympie’s John Cochrane.
The furore has erupted in the wake of Parmalat’s submission to a Queensland parliamentary committee inquiry into a private members bill on a fair milk price logo.
The logo would inform consumers of the region where the milk was produced and that the dairy farmer received a certain minimum price for the milk.
Parmalat is strongly against the concept and said the simple truth was Queenslanders aren’t producing milk at a competitive price.
Milk could be bought from Victoria and tanked north more cost effectively, according to Parmalat.
Mr Cochrane the real “simple truth” was that consumers want fresh local product, not milk “banged up the road for 1600 kilometres.”
“We have a wholesome food required on a daily basis and instead of marketing and promoting that, multinational companies continue to gouge farmers for margin in order to take profits overseas,” he said.
“In the process, they are ignoring customer wishes and pushing to shut down quality local farmers who have been dairying for generations.”
On Parmalat’s accusations that Queensland farmers were ignoring productivity pressures and should look to their New Zealand and Victorian counterparts for where efficiency gains could be made, Mr Cochrane and other producers asked if the “bean counters could please produce their agriculture degree.”
“We’ve had a large number of Victorians and New Zealanders buy into Queensland dairy with the same attitude and none of them are left,” Mr Cochrane said.
“We are working with the biology of a cow and mother nature - we can’t change those things.
“Nor will anyone change the desire of Queenslanders to support Queensland milk.”
Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation believes the milk mark bill will allow consumers to make milk purchasing decisions with full knowledge of how ethically and responsibly milk is sourced.
In its submission to the inquiry, QDO said more than 95 per cent of milk produced in Queensland was sold as fresh white milk in that state.
“Actions of major retailers are the major driver of the returns, or lack thereof, on Queensland dairy farms,” QDO president Brian Tessman said.
“The impact of $1 per litre milk on the dairy industry in Queensland has been extremely negative.”
Before it was introduced in early 2011, there were 621 dairy farmers in Queensland. Today there are 429.
In 2010, milk production was 530 million litres while in the last financial year it was 407m.
Agforce Queensland’s submission said the bill did not seek to mandate drinking milk prices but would instead empower consumers to pay above minimum market rates should they wish to support local producers.
Such support would be a welcome outcome, particularly if it also transferred to other Queensland producers, such as of red meats, grains or fibre, according to Agforce.
The demand-drive approach was also more likely to be sustainable in the long term, compared to applying a ‘floor price’ scheme, it argued.
The organisation, however, goes on to say that in deciding on a sustainable gross margin, the requirement to consider how best to encourage sustainable production and the use of best farming practices and innovation is very important to ensure that productivity gains and farm performance continue to be incentivised through competitive pressures.
“This is necessary in order to compete over the long term with Australian producers supplying drinking milk from the southern states,” chief executive officer Charles Burke said.