19th September 2019


The Hon. MARK PEARSON (15:10): Milk by any other name. Until quite recently the nations united by the mother tongue of English experienced no difficulty in understanding the multiple usages of that innocent word “milk”. However, Canada and various states in the United States of America have recently legislated that the word “milk” can only be used for products derived from animals, and New Zealand may soon follow suit. TheOxford English Dictionary defines the word “milk” as an opaque white fluid produced by female mammals to feed their young,the milk of cows as a food and a drink for humans, and the milk-like juice of certain plants such as coconut. However, the real root of “milk” is from Latin—the word “lac”, but the earliest definition of “milking” or “to milk” is “necare legumi mulgere”, which means drawing down the juices of bulb vegetables, without any specific reference to animal products.

In Australia the National Farmers’ Federation and the National Party are now lobbying for the dairy industry’s exclusive ownership of the word “milk”. The logic being applied is that consumers are easily confused and may inadvertently buy a litre of almond milk—God forbid—when they meant to buy a carton of cows’ milk. Can it seriously be asserted that Australian consumers may become confused about the contents of their soy latte or coconut laksa? With the dire state of the Murray-Darling river and the challenges of growing food in an uncertain climate, why does the National Party and the National Farmers’ Federation identify milk labelling as the critical issue of the day? It is simple: Cruelty-free, plant-based milks are the future; dairying is the past.

Animal milk consumption is expected to decline at 0.6 per cent each year over the next five years, while plant-based milk consumption is expected to increase at 16.9 per cent per annum. Consumers predominantly cite health reasons for moving from animal to plant-based products, but many are becoming aware of the slaughter of newborn male calves that are simply surplus to the industry’s needs. Instead of transitioning to meet the changing tastes of consumers, dairying interests are using their political influence to stymie competition and entrench their position in the marketplace. My advice is that holding back the tide of change never succeeds. Farmers should embrace the future and transform those dairy pastures into fields of legumes and nuts ready for milking.