“We have to get government support at state and federal levels to do that,” Australian Dairy Products Federation executive officer Janine Waller said.
The call comes as panicked shoppers strip supermarkets of milk in all its forms, while politicians call for calm.
But processors are increasingly concerned as to what impact the virus could have on their workers and ability to maintain processing plants.
ADPF, the Australian Dairy Farmers and the industry’s peak research and development arm – Dairy Australia – met this morning to thrash out how they would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure plants were kept open, milk was picked up from farms and essential products delivered to stores.
Ms Waller said the focus was getting governments to declare dairy and its supply chain an essential service.
She said the dairy industry peak bodies were also preparing protocols and messaging for farmers and the broader community, that would soon be released.
ADPF’s move follows the Australian Meat Industry Council writing to all state and the federal health ministers calling for their supply chain to be deemed an essential service.
“We’ve written to health ministers across the country saying it’s (test kits) one of the things they need to put in place (and) we need to make sure the meat supply chain is deemed an essential service,” AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said.
He said the key issue was to ensure that if a coronavirus case was picked up in a meat processing plant, then workers could be quickly tested, the site cleaned up and put back in operation as soon as possible.
AMIC has already raised concerns as to why rugby players were being granted greater access to coronavirus testing kits than the workers maintaining Australians’ food supply.
“We’re hearing the rugby league community is getting preference for coronavirus (testing) kits,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Mr Hutchinson said deeming meat processing an essential service would give processors priority access to freight, fuel and of course coronavirus testing kits.
He said Australians already deemed red meat as an essential source of healthy protein, as evidenced by the long lines at butchers and rationing at supermarkets.
All states have essential services legislation, which in an emergency allows the relevant minister to prohibit strike action and under the Victoria Act “requisition the use of property of any kind which is used or may be used for or in connection with the operation or maintenance of any essential service”.
The Weekly Times is seeking feedback from Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who was asked to respond earlier today.