Labour MEPs have called for the EU, UK government and consumers to act to ensure North East farmers get a fair deal. The price of milk in UK supermarkets has fallen to levels which are unsustainable for UK dairy farmers, with prices dropping from £1.39 to just 89p. The NFU suggests that this is leading farmers to leave the industry with around 60 having left in December alone. Milk in supermarkets in the UK can now be cheaper than water and the price can be below the cost of production. In response MPs have called for an EU-wide review of milk prices.
Paul Brannen, MEP for the North East and Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, said:
"It is simply not fair for a dairy farmer to be paid less for a litre of milk than it costs to produce. We must collectively and speedily inject fairness into the relationship between dairy farmers, processors, supermarkets and, importantly, customers.
"We want to see more powers given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whose role it is to ensure there is fair play between British food processors and retailers, so she can take action across the supply chain.
"We also want the UK government to write to the banks encouraging them to be as supportive as possible of dairy farmers during this difficult period, including making loans available.
"And in the longer term we want to see farmers working together more, in order to increase their clout in the market and move themselves up the supply chain, by investing in food processing and the production and marketing of processed products such as cheese and yoghurt, as this is where the money can be made.
"It is clear customers have an important role to play, by demonstrating to the supermarkets that they do not want to be unwittingly involved in putting UK dairy farmers out of business as a result of buying cheap milk.
"We are calling on the British consumer to ask probing questions of their supermarket manager, as they have done in the past about fairly traded products from the developing world, to find out if a fair price has been paid to the farmer for the milk we buy."
Sian Davies, chief dairy adviser of the National Farmers Union, added:
"The UK’s dairy farmers very much appreciate the spotlight being shone on this issue by Paul Brannen MEP and his colleagues. We very much agree that the dairy sector needs support from every angle at the moment, and that includes work in Brussels in overcoming barriers to export markets and reviewing the EU intervention price for dairy products. Back home in the UK we're heartened by consumer interest in and support for our dairy farmers and the high quality dairy products they produce. We continue to ask consumers to buy British on all dairy products."
Paul raised the issue of milk prices in the chamber of the European Parliament saying
"last Friday I visited dairy farmers in my constituency in the north-east of England and I met with farmers Chris McDonald and Richard and Dennis Gibb. Richard and Dennis have 300 cows on their farm and as a result of the fall in the price of milk over the last eight months they are now receiving a dip in income of a quarter of a million pounds. They are clearly struggling, as are dairy farmers across the UK.
What is to be done? One thing that customers can do is ask their supermarket managers if they are ensuring that they are paying a fair price for all of the milk that they have on sale in the supermarket. Customer power can be used to deliver a fair price for our farmers. It is right that dairy farmers milk cows, but it is wrong if supermarkets and customers milk dairy farmers.