Puerto Rico dairy farmers took to the streets Tuesday to protest against the Suiza Dairy processing plant for its alleged use of imported milk for its products, including certain branded milk and other by-products.
“We decided to demonstrate in front of Suiza’s processing plant because except for its fresh milk, Suiza imports all their other milk by-products sold in the island. We believe that Suiza can and should use locally produced milk to produce their products such as yogurt, chocolate milk, lactose-free milk, and low fat high protein milk,” said Puerto Rico Farm Bureau President Ramón González.
“We’re asking Suiza to support the local milk production and show their commitment to local agriculture,” said González.
The Bureau’s dairy sector estimated that Suiza imports between eight to 10 million quarts of milk per year, representing some $15 million to $20 million in imported milk by-products that could stay in the local economy.
Meanwhile, purchasing locally produced milk would help minimize seasonal milk excess production and it would contribute to strengthen the milk sector, the island’s largest and most important agricultural sector.
“The milk by-products that Suiza imports could be manufactured with locally produced milk and at a much lower cost to consumers than those imported products,” said Juan Carlos Rivera, president of the Bureau’s dairy sector. “We’ve offered Suiza the milk to produce competitive milk by-products but they have refused to buy locally.”
During the demonstration, which attracted dozens of farmers from municipalities such as Naguabo, San Sebastián, Hatillo, and Vega Baja, among other towns, Rivera asked consumers to support products made in Puerto Rico.
“We’re asking consumers to demand and support milk products made with local milk over imports, especially when they have the same or better quality than the imported ones because they are fresher and, in this case, even cheaper,” said Rivera.
“We want Suiza to contribute to the sector’s growth. We want to grow with Suiza. Right now, they aren’t doing it,” said González.
Peruvian company Grupo Gloria, which arrived to the island about 10 years ago, owns Suiza Dairy. The company commands about 62 percent of the local fresh milk market, in which it competes against Tres Monjitas.A reporter interviews Farm Bureau President Ramón González, left, as protesters set up in front of Suiza Dairy’s headquarters. (Credit: P.R. Farm Bureau)
Farmers claimed that since Grupo Gloria arrived in Puerto Rico, it started the “dangerous practice” of importing milk and milk by-products under different brands that they transport and distribute in Suiza’s trucks.
At present, the company is involved in a labor dispute with its employees and it is also involved in a federal lawsuit against the government over claims of fixing prices on milk production and distribution.
Milk production is Puerto Rico’s the largest agricultural sector with more than 300 cattle farms operating islandwide. According to the Milk Industry Regulatory Office’s 2011 annual, milk production generated $235.1 million that year, representing 29.8 percent of the islands’ total gross agricultural product. The sector generates some 25,000 direct and indirect jobs in manufacturing and sales of related products.