Fair milk price ‘logos’ bill throws lifeline to dairy farmers

A strengthening consumer campaign to support struggling dairy farmers is being met with a bill to legislate for fair milk price ‘logos’ identifying which milk returns a fair price to dairy farmers.

Member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth, with the support of Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO), will table the Sustainable Queensland Dairy Production (Fair Milk Price Logos) Bill 2016 today.

The Bill aims to introduce voluntary region-specific logos to be placed on milk containers, giving consumers confidence the dairy farmer who produced that milk received a fair price.

As production costs vary across Queensland, the Bill identifies three dairy regions – north Queensland, central Queensland and south-east Queensland.

To set the sustainable gross margin for each region, the relevant minister must consult with industry and use report data from the State Government’s Queensland Dairy Accounting Scheme (QDAS).

“This will make it very simple for the consumer – they can walk into the shop and immediately see which fresh milk produced in which region is fairly priced by looking for the logo,” Mr Knuth said.

He said consumers were prepared to pay extra to support their local dairy farmers, exemplified by a recent surge in branded milk sales after a public backlash to a farmgate price cut from processor Murray Goulburn.

“This show of support coupled with the ongoing sustainable farmgate prices this Bill will establish will benefit the consumer and the farmer – it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

“The legislation is directly giving consumers more control and transparency and throwing dairy farmers a lifeline.”

The Bill provides for the setting of a minimum price to be paid to dairy farmers for the production of milk carrying a logo, which is a voluntary market mechanism processors can choose to incorporate into existing milk labels. 

The legislation establishes the eligibility criteria and legal protection for logos and introduces offences for particular conduct to protect the logo integrity.

However, producers and processors would not be penalised if they chose to not adopt the logo.

Mr Knuth stressed that the Bill did not enable regulation of the Queensland dairy industry.

“It is in line with national competition policies enacted through the Federal Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and it does not force anyone in the supply chain to use the logo,” he said.

Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation president Brian Tessmann commended Shane Knuth and the Katter’s Australian Party for supporting Queensland dairy farmers with the Bill.

“Any legislation that empowers consumers to make an informed fair choice at the supermarket is a good for our farmers,” he said.

“Through the recent ‘I Buy Branded Milk’ campaign, we have seen that consumers want to support Queensland dairy farmers and this Bill supports this public change.”

Mr Tessmann said consumers deserved to know whether their milk was sustainably sourced and whether it would support their local dairy farmers.

Market pressures, unsustainable returns, natural disasters and the $1-a-litre milk supermarket price wars have slashed the number of Queensland dairy farmers from about 1,500 to just 430 in 15 years.

In 2013, the KAP introduced the Fair Milk Mark Bill, which was voted against by both major parties.

In the following year from 2014-15, Queensland milk production dropped six per cent due to lower milk prices, higher cost of production and poor weather conditions. 

“Given the rapid rate of farmers leaving the industry, we can’t afford to waste another three years doing nothing; imagine how many more farmers and processing plants we will have lost by then,” Mr Knuth said.

“We need to show our dairy farmers the spirit of mateship that Queensland is so famous for,” he said.

“This Bill sets a national precedent, with Queensland spearheading a policy platform for a sustainable Australian dairy industry.”

Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation is the peak advocacy organisation representing the interests of dairy farmers across Queensland.