About 500 farmers have attended a sobering, but peaceful crisis meeting at Tongala to discuss issues holding down milk prices.By Geoff Adams
The dairy industry faces a pessimistic future unless they can get better milk prices, speakers told a public protest meeting at Tongala yesterday.
The meeting was organised by a new farm lobby group which developed spontaneously out of an emotional protest in a Western District town in January.
Dairy farmers say their milk prices are running below their cost of production and fear they will be forced to leave the industry.
The meeting attracted some colorful conservative politicians including National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce, who accused big supermarkets of exploiting dairy farmers and urged the dairy farmers to stick together with other farm commodity groups.
Senator Joyce said milk was now being sold on supermarket shelves at a price less than bottled water.
Ausbuy representative Lynne Wilkinson told farmers the Australian government had negotiated ‘‘free trade’’ agreements with the US which did not benefit Australia for 15 to 20 years, while cheap imported food flooded into Australia.
She said every major food commodity except rice was controlled by foreign interests, including 75 per cent of the country’s dairy brands.
She said Free Trade Agreements were not free nor in Australia’s interest if it meant growers and processors were competing against foreign government subsidised products.
Most of the crowd had to stand up as seating was limited but they waited quietly during the two and a half hour meeting.
Supermarkets are paying suppliers, including dairy farmers, less because they are in a constant push to increase profits, entrepreneur Dick Smith OAM said.
Mr Smith said the obsession with increased growth and profits was not sustainable and would have consequences for Australians’ way of life.
He told the meeting he was shocked Australia had become a net importer of food.
‘‘It’s globalisation gone made and it’s capitalism gone mad,’’ Mr Smith said
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