Norco vows to fight for tender
LISMORE-based dairy co-op Norco, which employs more than 300 people in the region, has lost out to a company whose profits go overseas on a tender to continue to supply milk to the region's key health facilities.
Norco's chairman and acting chief executive Greg McNamara said he was "gutted" by the decision of NSW HealthShare, which runs the Lismore Base Hospital kitchen, to award a contract for milk supplies to rival company Dairy Farmers, based in Queensland.
"It makes me disappointed that we can't supply those people in hospital when they are at their lowest point," he said.
"But we hope to turn this around. We have already started the conversation with HealthShare."
In April Norco ceased supplying milk to a number of health facilities including 16 of the 17 hospitals in the Northern NSW Local Health District, which encompasses the Clarence, Richmond, Tweed and Kyogle local government areas.
Mr McNamara confirmed the company would continue to supply the Dorrigo Health Facility.
It is estimated the NNSWLHD market is worth 300,00 litres of milk a year.
Mr McNamara said it was a great shame Norco, which since the demise of Murray Darling was now the country's largest dairy co-operative, should be shut out by Dairy Farmers, owned by the Lion Group whose profits go offshore to parent company Kirin Holdings in Japan.
Norco's general manager of food Andrew Burns said the company had been cheered by the robust consumer support since the news broke.
"We are a local brand and we do take that to heart," he said.
"We would have liked to have thought that a local supplier working within the local community would continue to supply local businesses."
Meanwhile he said the 123-year-old company was doing its best to have the decision reversed.
"We've been told the door is closed but I sent an email asking if there is any opportunity to have a further conversation," Mr Burns said.
Health Service Union secretary Gerard Hayes said the NSW Government had "abandoned" local milk supplier Norco by sourcing milk from Queensland.
"Northern Rivers health workers and hospital patients wanted to support their local economy," he said.
"The dairy industry has played a huge role in the Northern Rivers for many years... we've even heard reports of patients refusing to drink the hospital milk unless it's Norco."
The decision has also drawn fire from Lismore MP Thomas George.
"I was surprised and disappointed to find out local company Norco had lost the contract to supply milk to the NSW Northern Local Health District," he said.
"My office was made aware of HealthShare's decision a month ago. Since then I have had discussions with (NNSWLDH chair) Dr Brian Pezzutti and also made representations to Minister for Health Brad Hazzard's office in an attempt to discuss what other alternatives were available."
But Mr George denied Queensland milk would be used.
"Claims made by the Health Services Union milk will be sourced from Queensland are absolutely false, with product being expressly sourced by NSW dairies," he said.
NSW Shadow Health Minister and Shadow Minister for North Coast Walt Secord and Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Mick Veitch, also condemned the decision.
In a statement HealthShare confirmed the milk supplied in northern NSW health facilities was sourced from a co-operative of NSW farmers.