Queensland politician and Katter Party representative Shane Knuth is leading a push to introduce a “fair price” logo to milk products sold across the state, in a bid to protect dairy farmers across Queensland.
The member for Dalrymple yesterday tabled the Sustainable Queensland Dairy Production (Fair Milk Price Logos) Bill 2016 in Parliament with the aim of introducing voluntary, region specific logos for milk products in the state. The logos will let consumers know farmers who produced the milk received a “fair price” for the produce.
This bill comes off the back of recent controversy surrounding lower purchase prices for milk from Australia’s largest dairy cooperative, Murray Goulburn. Criticism has also been directed at the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, following price wars that led to milk being sold at $1 a litre.
The Queensland legislation provides a minimum price that must be paid to farmers in order for the brand to carry the logo, and offences to protect the integrity of the logo. The movement is stressed as being non-mandatory, with Knuth saying in a statement that it would not enable regulation of the state’s 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,” Knuth said.
The Queensland dairy industry has faced increasing tough times over the past 15 years, with low returns and poor weather conditions contributing to a drop in the number of dairy farmers, from 1500 farmers to 430, according to Knuth.
In 2013 the Katter’s Australian Party attempted to introduce the Fair Milk Mark Bill, which suggested a similar logo-based system to indicate fair milk prices to consumers. The bill was voted down. According to Knuth, the state’s milk production dropped 6% over the year following the Bill’s introduction.
“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,” Knuth said in the statement.
“We need to show our dairy farmers the spirit of mateship that Queensland is so famous for.”
The Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation helped Knuth draft the bill, and president Brian Tessmann believes consumers want to know their milk purchases are supporting local farmers.
“If the Bill passes and the logos are taken up it will be a similar effect to the “I Buy Branded Milk” campaign,” Tessmann told SmartCompany this morning.
“Consumers clearly want to support dairy farmers, and this logo will give consumers information they can rely on.”
However, Gary Mortimer, retail expert and associate professor at QUT Business School, believes consumers don’t make good on their intentions to only buy branded milk and that a logo would “not shift purchase behaviours significantly”.
“A logo of this manner would draw awareness again to the plight of dairy farmers, but it may not heighten demand for local milk,” Mortimer says
“The biggest challenge that dairy farmers face today is the disconnect between consumers intentions and their behaviours. Many shoppers claim to support branded milk and have the best intentions, but we have found that their behaviours are different.”
“They will still buy cheap meat and cheap milk, despite their claims to the contrary.”
As the proposed logo and associated price requirements would not be mandatory, Tessmann believes it would it be a matter of waiting to see if local brands would take up the logo.
“If it’s got no value, all processes will ignore it, but we have seen there is value in it,” he says.
“We know that consumers pursue branded milk, and the more brands that take the logo up, the more consumers will want to buy their milk.”
Tessmann would like to see similar measures introduced in other Australian states, believing that Western Australia and New South Wales would both greatly benefit from a similar approach. However, he acknowledges the nation’s dairy industry has a long way to go.
“I think farmers would like stronger measures than this Bill, but right now it’s somewhat the art of the possible,” Tessmann says.
“It has been a long battle, and this Bill would be one more ingredient in baking the cake that is a sustainable dairy industry.”