Yesterday's (10 October) announcement by the supermarket chain Woolworth's was anxious to stress that the recent protests of dairy farmers are falling on deaf ears. It has ruled out a review of its milk prices in defiance of calls for a boycott of the chain and suppliers' fears of bankruptcy. Woolworth's is not the only retailer selling cheap milk, but this chain has been targeted by protestors because it kick-started the milk price war with reductions two months ago.

Farmers and their supporters, who have been protesting outside the supermarket chain over the last few days, insist that Woolworth's policy on home brand milk is crucifying the industry. Since deregulation in June, the store's decision to cut the price of milk by A$0.27 has not affected company profit margins. Shane Paulger, of the Australian Milk Producers Association (AMPA), said that it has, however, meant that the income of milk producers has been slashed by up to 40%. AMPA president, John Cartwright, explained that since deregulation the payments to farmers per litre of milk have dropped from an average of $A0.56 to only $A0.30, while production costs average $A0.34.

And the dramatic fall in the cost of milk for the consumer is continuing, despite assurances from the State and Federal Government representatives that following deregulation, milk prices would hold at a decent level. Tony Ferraro, a farmer from Yarloop, is devastated: "We got let down badly by our leaders, they lied to us."

Supporters of the dairy industry have called for a nationwide boycott of home brand milk at Woolworth's. Outside one outlet at the Bunbury forum centre, around fifty protesters carried placards reading "Home Brands Strangle Aussie Dairy Farmers."

Woolworth's has offered to discuss the issue with milk producers in a few weeks time, but for farmers and their families, the situation is a little more urgent. Paul Curulli, a dairy farmer from Harvey, explained that his son, who was preparing to take over the farm, would soon have to go on the dole, following A$500,000 losses since deregulation and a 50% drop in income. "I feel like I've let him down," said Curulli, "My farm's devalued by half and I can't sell it, I'm stuck there and my son's got to move, we are suicidal. It's no longer a joke."