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Fonterra or Fon-terror?
Milk, long a staple of New Zealand breakfasts, has increased in price by 42 per cent since 2007, putting the squeeze on many struggling kiwi families. In this special investigative feature, Richard D’Ath asks how the price could possibly go up, whether the Government is doing enough to help those in need, and whether there is really something more sinister at work.
When I met Maryann Prior† in her Hataitai home she was struggling to find the money to pay her milk bill.
“It used to be less, but now it is more. You can’t explain that. How will my kids eat their sugar-frosted corn balls without fresh milk?”
Maryann’s stress is being felt across the country as middle New Zealand kiwi battlers face milk prices that some consider out of control. A recent online poll of 43 respondents, conducted by this magazine in January, found that 9 out of 10 New Zealanders felt the price of milk was higher than they would like, with only 10 per cent of the population thinking the price was fair. Are kiwi consumers tired of being ripped off?
Opposition spokesperson Mike Munroe agrees:
“It is disgusting that while John Key holidays in Hawaii the average family are being ripped- off by his rich prick mates. If Labour were in power, something would be done.”
National’s associate Minister for the Dairy industry, Stella Richie, wouldn’t comment at 3am on Easter Monday, but later emailed noting that while the John Key Government did recognise New Zealand’s concerns, John Key’s Government had no immediate plans to intervene in the dairy industry, as prices seemed to reflect the underlying economics.
Was the situation as simple as “economics”? Or was the Labour party right yet again? That was the question I posed to Fonterra’s Community Engagement Liaison, David Bovis. A large, scaly and rather boisterous man, he was immediately on the offensive.
“Well, you see, it’s an oversimplification to say that the price of milk has gone up, because while it has, milk still represents excellent value to the average Kiwi consumer. Do you know how many bananas you’d have to eat to get the same amount of potassium found in a two-litre carton of milk?
“Eighty-six! Now try and tell me that milk isn’t worth $3.84 for two litres.”
What Mr Bovis needed to explain, though, was why milk used to cost $2.50 and now cost more than that. How could that be if it was just the same milk?
“Well, you see, we sell milk on the international market, and sometimes that price goes up, and that means New Zealand consumers have to pay more.”
This answer seemed to make a bit of sense, but something didn’t quite ring true. Some second opinions were needed.
Ronald Cheice of Labour Voters for Dairy Equity (a non-partisan dairy think-tank), was excited to see me, and particularly excited when I described my meeting with Mr Bovis.
“Ah yes, that’s David for you, running those classic lines about the “international market”. Tell me, when you fly to Auckland, is it an international flight? Of course not, it’s a domestic flight. New Zealand is the domestic market, not the international market. It just doesn’t add up.”
Indeed it didn’t add up. Some intensive research on the Google revealed that while international prices had gone up, New Zealand was producing more milk than it ever had. A few back-of-the-envelope calculations reinforced my initial suspicion: when supply increases, prices should go down, not up. I went back to Mr Cheice with my observations. It turned out, while I had been away researching, he too had reached some startling conclusions.
“Riddle me this, my good man: we are constantly told that it’s the Chinese who are buying our milk, yet everyone knows Asians are lactose intolerant. What does this tell you?”
I wasn’t sure.
“Someone else is buying our milk. Someone the government doesn’t want you to know about. Tell me, what do you know about the Freemasons?”
Greenpeace’s Alice Arbor met me in their new Queen Street offices. Smelling slightly of hemp, she started with a question:
“When was the last time you drank from one of our beautiful rivers?”
I sheepishly admitted I never had.
“Exactly, and now you can’t because the dairy industry has six million shit-beasts defiling them every day.”
I asked what this had to do with the price of milk.
“Everything. New Zealand only exports milk because the dairy industry is subsidised by the killing of our country’s future. If we made farmers pay for their pollution, they wouldn’t be able to export their milk, and our kids wouldn’t grow up with rickets”.
Surely, though, we needed export income?
“Hah, that’s just what global capitalism wants you to think. See my iPhone 4S? I don’t actually need it, or even want it; I was just tricked by consumer culture into buying it. Same with my Diesel jeans and my Ray-Ban glasses. We should be freeing ourselves, and Greenpeace’s opposition to the dairy industry is just the first step. Now excuse me, I have to take a call.”
Mr Bovis seemed too dismissive of Miss Arbor’s concerns.
“It’s all human environmentalist claptrap, son. Cows don’t pollute the environment, they
are the environment! Haven’t you seen that documentary about the lion? It’s all interlinked in the circle of life. Also, have you ever been inside a cow?”
I had not.
“Well if you had, you’d know that they are very clean. Now excuse me, I have a Lodge meeting to attend.”
At this stage I still had more questions than answers, but only had one more name on my list: a controversial right-wing economist, Nick Crampon. He was noted for writing in support of the failed policies of the 1980s, and just this week had blogged against raising the minimum wage. Still, I presented my findings to him for comment.
“Ummm…” He said, looking confused and uncertain, “Ummm… none of those claims really make any sense…” He then proceeded to draw a number of graphs which I found hard to follow.
Mr Cheice was not impressed.
“Well, he would say that, he’s an economist, a discredited pseudo-scientist. He even once said in his blog that Roger Douglas had done some things right. Absurd. Everyone knows that the Reptilians do nothing for the common man, only for their Lodge-mates!”
Ultimately, though, it was Maryann that needed to be impressed, and for this swing voter the explanations simply weren’t enough.
“All this talk of ‘exports’ and ‘efficiency’ won’t put milk in the bellies of my children. I think it’s time John Key’s Government came to realise that people voted for a brighter future, not the advancement of the Masonic Reptilian agenda by selling of state assets to the Chinese”.
For John Key, then, the Maryanns of New Zealand represent an unpleasant political truth: has brand Key finally been tarnished? With the election only 28 months away, it seemed that this question may be one firmly on the minds of middle New Zealand.
For Maryann, the answer was simple.
“Yeah, I think Key is tarnished by this milk crisis. I am thinking of voting for that other lizard, what’s his name? Goff?”
Richard D’Ath is a freelance journalist and unregistered chiropractor.