Warrnambool Cheese and Butter rivals weigh up their options

THE major players in the race to control Warrnambool Cheese and Butter (WCB) went into publicity lockdown yesterday as the likely victor assessed its options.

Negotiations between Canadian corporation Saputo and Murray Goulburn (MG) will take place over the coming days as the co-operative mulls over whether it will sell its 17.7 per cent stake in the Allansford-based processor.

Saputo now controls more than 45 per cent of WCB following former rival Bega Cheese’s decision to sell its 17.5 per cent stake this week, effectively ending MG’s chances of taking over the 125-year-old company.

United Dairyfarmers Victoria (UDV) president Kerry Callow said it was disappointing that WCB was on course to be majority-owned by foreign interests.

She said the loss of domestic control over WCB had wider implications for farmer power over the dairy manufacturing process.

“There’s probably more of this story to come and all eyes will be on Murray Goulburn to see what they do next,” Ms Callow said. “The problem is once Australian farmers have lost control over the manufacturing process, that’s it, there’s no going back. 

“You’re going to have foreign owners in good times and bad, so when there are bad times, you have very limited control over how the processor deals with the situation.”

In a brief statement issued on Thursday, MG management said it would “assess the ramifications of this development (Bega’s sale to Saputo) as it relates to MG’s bid for WCB and also MG’s 17.7 per cent shareholding in WCB.”

Both Saputo and Murray Goulburn declined to comment yesterday.

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