Photo: Dariusz Gora/Shutterstock.com
In July thousands of dairy farmers demonstrated in London against the latest cut in the price the big processors are paying them for milk. The reduction of about 2p per litre followed hard on the heels of a similar fall in May. Agriculture Minister Jim Paice was howled down when he suggested farmers should look at their own costs.
Days after the demonstration, hundreds of farmers blockaded milk processing plants throughout the country with their tractors and threatened to hold back their milk from suppliers – saying they would rather pour it down the drains at Westminster. Stephen Britten of the newly formed Farmers for Action said they could not go on any longer. Supermarkets must pay more for milk “but it has to come out of their profits and not from consumers”. The National Farmers Union (NFU) reckons that its members are losing up to 6p on each litre of milk they produce and that many are deserting the industry.
The farmers’ action has produced results. But as some of the main supermarkets increased the price paid to farmers, they have also deferred some of the price reductions planned for August and their agreement to a new code of conduct designed to give the farmers more bargaining power. The government has also said it will try to persuade supermarkets to source more of the milk used in cheese, butter and yoghurt from British farms rather than importing it.
In 1933 the Milk Marketing Board was formed to guarantee a market for British dairy farmers. It also ensured that milk was clean and free from diseases such as brucellosis. Production was controlled by any excess liquid milk being turned into butter or cheese for which the farmer got a lower price.
The Board was sacrificed as part of the deal for Britain joining the Common Market, the forerunner of the European Union. Only a system such as capitalism would destroy a coal industry in an island made of coal and a dairy industry in a land of rain and grass. Are we to end up drinking French milk in the same way that we now import Polish coal?
• According to publicly funded research, Britain imports 40 per cent of its food (see, for example, www.foodsecurity.ac.uk). Many people recognise that it is crazy to import food that can be grown here. Around the country local groups are springing up with the aim of tackling this issue – no point waiting for politicians to do anything! Just one example is Incredible Edible Prestwich and District – a community group set up two years ago by people living in and around Prestwich, in north Manchester. They have held a number of public meetings on the issue. For details of their next event, see What’s On. ■