AUSTRALIA’S dairy industry has been warned it runs the risk of derailing the introduction of a mandatory code of conduct between farmers and processors, amid growing calls for it to cover supermarkets.
Some farm leaders and processors, including the national peak body Australian Dairy Farmers, called for the mandatory dairy code to be extended to supermarkets at a meeting with federal Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon this month.
But NSW Dairy Connect and Victoria’s Farmer Power lobby, who attended the meeting, opposed the move and claimed it was an ADF delaying tactic given the retail giants were already covered by the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct policed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
“It’s a smokescreen put up by ADF and processors to delay getting the mandatory (dairy) code in,” Dairy Connect president Graham Forbes said.
“We even had legal advice from a former ACCC lawyer at the meeting with Joel that you can’t extend the dairy code to supermarkets.”
Coles, Woolworths and Aldi signed on to the prescribed Food and Grocery Code of Conduct in mid-2015, which sets out an independent arbitration process, makes it illegal for the supermarkets to delist a supplier that makes a complaint and sets out minimum standards on payment, specifications for fresh produce and allocation of shelf space.
The Weekly Times understands ADF joined most processors at the Fitzgibbon meeting in calling for the code to be extended to supermarkets, with the backing of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria.
When asked about its support, an ADF spokesman said the federation had “previously had policy that stated that a code of conduct should include the whole supply chain — farmers, processors and retailers”.
But the spokesman said “this has not been formally revisited since the introduction of the voluntary code in 2017 and now the support for a mandatory code.
“Any comments you may have heard from ADF would be along those historical lines, therefore we may need to take the opportunity to revisit this position and how the code would work in concert with the Food & Grocery Code.”
Farmer Power spokesman Alex Robertson said ADF and the processors were trying to “muddy the waters and string out” the delivery of a mandatory code”.
UDV president Adam Jenkins said the code should ideally cover retailers, given the headaches processors faced dealing with supermarkets.
But he said the UDV might have to accept the development of two separate codes if it meant major delays.