The price of milk

The true price of milk is its cost, in distracting us from the bigger issue: what policy and regulation is needed, to secure quality food for ordinary — all — New Zealanders

Why assume milk guzzling is such a good thing? Why should it not cost, since it does?

I think it started with the Budget block of cheese. Now the eponymous Campbell, bless him, is on a crusade, about why our milk costs more than Australia’s. What ought to be a sort of birthright — our equivalent of OPEC oil, produced on the fat of our land — is being priced out of reach of New Zealand.

It’s getting (ho ho) whipped into a political issue; and so it is, but that’s not all it is. It’s a policy issue.

Sexy, huh?

Other things being equal, of all the foods that should be cheap, would milk top the list? Calcium for strong bones and teeth, to be sure. Better than fizzy drinks, to be sure, better than fruit juice? And let us not forget the butter, and yoghurt, and cheese — let us not forget ice cream — without which life would be, well, not worth living, really.

Let’s not forget its environmental cost, either.

Price has value, as a signal of milk’s true cost which, in ecological footprint terms, is high.

Is a lower price the best price? Or is a true price the gold standard?

The current price doesn’t include environment costs, for either greenhouse gas emissions, or water, for example.

Milk’s a low priority issue, in my view. Food security is high, in a world where prices, all food prices, will rise.

New Zealanders ought to be surer than anyone else in the world of not cheap food, but affordable, quality food, that rewards (ie, pays) farmers for producing quality, for looking after the environment, and pays for itself, in secondary social benefits.

Our present policies, or lack of them, put us on a par with everyone else in the world.

Here’s how it’s being handled, politically: like a dog's breakfast. GST off fresh fruit and veg (Labour). GST off healthy food (Rahui Katene, Maori Party). GST off food (Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples). 

Bernard Hickey — who's a bit doomy and gloomy, quite often, but not without some reason — points to oil at $4 per litre, soon, which will eat up GST’s buffer.

I think we need an inquiry, not into milk or food prices, but food security and supply, starting now, and looking out to say, 2050, with a broad remit to consider all of the issues, and any type of policy response.

Milk puts some life and meaning into soporifics: the supermarket duopoly, supermarket pricing. But focusing solely on milk makes "dairy giant" Fonterra a distraction.

It’s beyond scope of any single one of the policy shops (though several have some interest), which in itself tells you something: the low value that we put on what we put in our mouths.

It looks as if even Sue Kedgley, veteran campaigner, is being led into battle, not war.