How did buying milk become so confusing?

Are you confused about milk? I’m confused. I have to admit I’ve always been confused, but in the last week it’s gotten worse.

I used to be confused about choice. There are so many to choose from: supermarket brand, farmer brand, super creamy style, A2 protein-rich milk, full-fat, reduced-fat, skim, lactose free, buttermilk, soy… A quick search of Coles online shows almost 100 different types of milk.

But now I’m confused about fairness too. Because apparently we’re ripping farmers off, big time, to the point where a bunch of them are about to go out of business.


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We need to avoid discounted, supermarket brand milk and buy the more expensive, branded stuff, experts suggest.

I’ve been doing this for years, vaguely hoping that the extra 75c per litre I spend will go towards the farmer, rather than Coles’ bottom line. Apparently we all need to do this, in an effort to end the “price war” and ensure farmers get paid fairly for their products.

But this whole debacle is way more complicated than discount milk – and it’s not just a matter of finding your local farmer and buying their products.

Yes, we need to make sure farmers are fairly paid. But it’s bloody hard to work out which brands best support farmers. Half of the “branded” milk products are actually owned by the major dairy companies, like NZ-based Fonterra. And it’s not just milk we need to be thinking of – it’s also the milk related products like yoghurt and cheese.

Fonterra, for instance, owns dozens of brands including Calciyum yoghurt, Bega cheese and Western Star butter. If we purchase those products, are we also supporting an unsustainable pricing model?

It’s all too confusing. Some are suggesting we need to introduce a 50c per litre ‘milk levy’ on every milk purchase, which seems completely ridiculous. These are big businesses; surely they can work out a sustainable business agreement between them, without the government having to step in like a parent mediating squabbling toddlers?

The other option is to support Coles’ new “fighting fund” – which is, again, ridiculous. Coles started this problem by introducing $2 milk in the first place, and now they’re going to “fix” it by introducing a more expensive milk product?

It’s not only stupid, it’s also going to be ineffective. As Jo Aston reports in the Fin Review, Coles “might as well post every Australian farmer half a Musk stick and a ball of bellybutton lint”.

It’s all too hard.

I just want milk, yeah?

The Meddler

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