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Milk price protests prompt ministers to meet farmers

Category: England

Published: 21st Jul 2012 10:55:40

Government ministers are to hold talks with dairy farmers following two nights of protests over prices paid by some supermarkets to milk suppliers.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and farming minister Jim Paice will attend talks in Powys on Monday.

Mr Paice said the aim was "to get all levels of the supply chain to make the real changes needed to guarantee the industry's long-term future".

Protesters blockaded milk processing plants on Thursday and Friday night.

The meeting will take place in Llanelwedd at the Royal Welsh Show, one of the largest agricultural events in the UK.

The BBC also understands that the government is arranging to meet representatives of the big supermarkets in the next few days.

The protest group Farmers For Action (FFA) is warning that cuts in the price paid to suppliers by dairy processors, combined with rising feed costs, could force hundreds of dairy farmers out of business.

The UK could end up having to import much of its milk, the FFA says.

All retailers must move to a sustainable funding model for the dairy industry”

Following the second night of protests on Friday, the farming minister said: "These price cuts are a severe blow for dairy farmers.

"Government cannot and should not set prices but I will do everything in my power to get all levels of the supply chain to make the real changes needed to guarantee the industry's long-term future.

"Farmers and processors need to work together through an industry code of practice on contracts and retailers have to help shift the focus away from short-term practices which are completely unsustainable."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the talks with dairy farmers had been brought forward to Monday because the situation "must not drag on any longer".

The aim was to agree an industry code of practice, he said.

As many as 400 farmers and 20 tractors blockaded a processing plant in Foston, Derbyshire, on Friday night, the FFS said.

Meanwhile, a four-hour blockade of the Robert Wiseman dairy in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, involved about 200 protesters and 40 vehicles, according to West Mercia Police.

These demonstrations followed protests by hundreds of farmers on Thursday night at sites in Somerset, Yorkshire and Leicestershire.

After those demonstrations, the Co-operative supermarket chain announced on Friday that it would increase the premium it paid on milk to farmers within its group.

Steve Murrells, chief executive of Co-operative Food, said: "We have been in continual discussions on this issue with the National Farmers' Union and we have listened to their concerns.

"We are taking this action to help alleviate the immediate pressures that farmers within the CDG are facing. Going forward, we are committed to finding a supply model that is sustainable for the long-term future of our dairy farmers."

National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall responded: "Their recognition of the real difficulties being faced by British farmers this summer and commitment to support them through these difficult times is to be applauded. But whilst this is an important move, all retailers must move to a sustainable funding model for the dairy industry."

In the dairy industry, the processors set the price they pay farmers for their milk.

Four leading dairy processors have announced cuts of up to 2p a litre, due from 1 August.

Robert Wiseman Dairies and First Milk have both cut the price by 1.7 pence per litre (ppl), Arla Foods UK by 2ppl and Dairy Crest by 1.65ppl.

They say they have had no choice because the price they can sell cream for on the commodities market has fallen sharply in the past 12 to 18 months.

The NFU said the cuts would be felt by more than a quarter of suppliers.

An average farmer with about 150 to 200 cows, the union said, would lose about £37,000 in revenue from the combined effect of previous cuts in May/June and the new cuts in August.

The FFA says that supermarkets must pay more for milk, and that this should come out of the retailers' profits rather than the cost being passed on to customers.

"We are tightening our belts all the time but we have a welfare angle - it's no good if we don't look after the cows properly," said the FFA's Stephen Britten, at the Leeds protest on Thursday.

"But the supermarkets, their margins are getting bigger and our margins are getting less and it has to stop."

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says supermarkets are the "wrong targets" in the campaign.

"The pressure should be on other big buyers of milk - food manufacturers and the public sector - to show the same strong support for the industry that retailers do," BRC food director Andrew Opie has said.

"The truth is, the farmers in the best position are often those in supermarket supply chains."

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BBC News, 2012. Milk price protests prompt ministers to meet farmers [Online] (Updated 21st Jul 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1441877/Milk-price-protests-prompt-ministers-to-meet-farmers [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]

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