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Coronavirus: Vegans hit out at Woolworths over 'unfair' milk rule

Complaints have surfaced claiming Woolworths’ coronavirus product limits on groceries in Victoria are unfairly disadvantaging vegans, vegetarians and people with food intolerances.

While people who don’t follow specialty diets can purchase up to six litres of milk in compliance with Victoria’s two-per-person limit, those who require non-dairy milk can only access just two litres at a time.

This is due to plant-based milks coming in smaller long-life, one-litre cartons, while dairy milk can be bought fresh in containers as large as three litres.

Canned tomato, vegetables and legumes are also restricted to two quantities per person, which plant-based eaters argue is unfair given the products’ nutritional differences to animal-based items.

A sign listing all the current product limits in Woolworths.
Some Woolworths shoppers have argued purchase limits disadvantaged plant-based customers. Source: AAP

A Melbourne customer called on the supermarket to use “common sense” and consider individuals buying food to support entire households of vegans and vegetarians.

“I buy for two vegetarian/vegans, usually only once a week as I am in a high risk category, and don't wish to hoard, nor go out more frequently, but the choice of foods is more limited for us and we should be given some more leeway as we are not buying two steaks either,” she wrote on the supermarket’s Facebook.

The woman, who must shop alone due to Stage 4 restrictions, said she had no choice but to shop more frequently “due to being vegetarian”.

“Now, I either pay $12 every time online for a small shop, or go more often, just because of the types of foods we eat,” she said.

The shopper wasn’t alone in her struggle, with others expressing similar experiences in comments under her post.

“I agree with you. The milk limit is ridiculous, and worse than what you said, regular dairy drinkers can have six litres at a time because they can buy two three litre bottles of fresh milk,” one replied.

They added it was “totally unfair” given vegans or people with a lactose intolerance could buy just two litres of milk at a time.

“And also those of us with severe intolerances and allergies. The handful of things I can eat is very small and I can’t buy much at a time,” another shopper said.

Woolworths responded to the complaint in a comment on the original post, empathising with the woman over the “frustrating” inconvenience.

A Woolworths employee stocking a milk fridge in store.
Dairy milk can be bought in six-litre quantities while there is a two-litre maximum for plant milk. Source: AAP

“We understand product limits are frustrating, and we don’t like them much either. They‘re a difficult but necessary measure to ensure more of our customers have fair access to the products they need,” the reply read.

“All products we have on limits are in very high demand right now. If we hadn’t introduced them, product availability would have been much worse.

“We're continuing to encourage all customers to buy only what they need.”

Coles conversely is enforcing two-pack limits on a smaller number of products – mince meat, chicken breasts and chicken thighs.

Essential stores such as supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle shops and pharmacies are allowed to remain open throughout the six-week, Stage 4 period in Victoria.

The last customers at Coles, Woolworths and ALDI in Melbourne will be allowed in at 7.30pm every night to ensure the supermarkets comply with an 8pm curfew.

Under the new restrictions, residents of metropolitan Melbourne must follow an 8pm-5am curfew and can't travel more than five kilometres from home for shopping or exercise.

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