DAIRY processor Lactalis has been accused of unreasonable corporate bastardry for refusing to agree to a higher price for milk produced by southern Queensland farmers.
The 110-strong farmers' collective, Premium Milk, was seeking a 5c/litre rise in the farmgate price for milk. However, talks broke down with the French multinational when agreement could not be reached.
Senator Susan McDonald said it was no wonder that dairy farmers were on their knees when it cost 65c to produce a litre of milk.
Last year Lactalis paid between 59c and 60c/L, meaning farmers lost money on every litre of milk they produced.
Lactalis supplies Woolworths with dairy brands including Pauls, Vaalia, Oak, Breaka and Ski.
"This is an act of unreasonable corporate bastardry at a time when Australian dairying is fighting for its existence," Ms McDonald said.
This is an act of unreasonable corporate bastardry at a time when Australian dairying is fighting for its existence.
"I am told the Woolworths/Lactalis contract is being reviewed and hasn't yet been agreed.
"So I ask Woolworths and Coles: at a time when you are doing everything possible to promote your endorsement of exploitation-free products, why can't you ensure our dairy producers are paid fairly and reasonably in line with the cost of production?"
In a statement sent to Queensland Country Life, Lactalis said it continued to negotiate in good faith with Premium Milk, which represented its Queensland farmer base, on the milk price for the 2020 year in line with the existing Lactalis/Premium agreement.
"Lactalis has recently and does regularly communicate to our Queensland farmers around our ongoing relationship" the statement reads. "Lactalis will not discuss the details of our commercial negotiations with Premium or our farmers."
Senator McDonald said the Morrison Government's proposed Dairy Code of Conduct aimed to prevent unfairness.
"The code of conduct that is currently out for final consultation, is designed to specifically address this kind of unconscionable conduct by producers," she said.
"It will provide clear rules of engagement and mechanisms for producers to move forward where negotiations stall.
"I will also be working to ensure that the ultimate price setter, being the supermarkets and retailers, are also held to account.
"And I have to say, the voluntary food and grocery code of conduct has proven to be not worth the paper it's written on.
"What I am asking is that Coles and Woolworths ensure processors pay nothing less than 75c/L farmgate price to these Premium Milk farmers."
However, Katter's Australian Party said the federal government's draft dairy industry code of conduct was farcical, saying it allowed processors to continue to refuse to pay a fair price for milk.
KAP Queensland leader Robbie Katter said the draft dairy industry code stated processors and dairy farmers must operate in good faith.
"But it also includes a clause that says in exceptional circumstances, processors can vary milk supply agreements without a dairy farmer's permission," Mr Katter said.
"Even the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has warned the code could entrench the market power of big multinational companies."
Mr Katter said KAP's efforts to identify 'fair price' milk on Queensland supermarket shelves had been rejected by Labor and the LNP.
"We believe that our Fair Milk Logo scheme would have gone a long way to at least make consumers very aware of the dairy crisis each time they go to the shop," Mr Katter said.
"Unfortunately this has been rejected, as has a recent attempt in the Federal Parliament to introduce a minimum price for milk."
In the year 2000, Queensland had about 1500 dairy farmers. There are now just 340.
Senator McDonald is well known for her support of the dairy industry, including protesting with farmers and a live cow outside an Aldi supermarket in Beaudesert in February.