The drama surrounding the crisis engulfing the UK dairy industry intensified with farmers protesting outside a Yorkshire dairy and celebrity chefs calling for supermarkets to be boycotted.
Up to 400 dairy farmers were set to hold a peaceful demonstration outside the Arla dairy complex in Leeds in opposition to recent price cuts as Country Week went to press.
The protests were part of a national day of action by the Farmers for Action group who warn that hundreds of farmers will be forced out of business by the recent cuts which leaves them being paid a rate that is less than the cost of production.
Stephen Franklin, a member of Farmers for Action and a dairy farmer from near Harrogate, was among those participating and he said that Arla is among the firms to have recently cut the price it pays to farmers for milk.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “We are producing milk at a cost which is not being met by the amount we are paid. The big question is now whether this country will be able to keep producing its own milk.
“Do we want to buy British milk or shall we import it? That is the issue here. If we cannot find a way of changing retailers’ minds we will not have a choice. We are around 85 per cent self-sufficient at the moment.
“We need a proper selling system in this industry or we will end up like mining and shipbuilding where we have to be importing all the time.”
Meanwhile, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall urged the public to boycott some supermarkets over cuts to the price of milk.
In a letter to The Times, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote: “It is shocking that many dairy farmers are to be paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it. Dairy farming in this country is fast becoming unviable.”
But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said supermarkets were the “wrong target”.
BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said: “They’re actually the best payers for milk. Currently, 11 of the top 12 best-paying milk contracts are contracts paid by supermarkets. But supermarkets and their customers don’t need all the milk produced by UK dairy farmers. Only half of the milk they produce ends up as liquid milk in bottles and cartons and only part of that is sold in supermarkets; the rest is sold by convenience stores, door-to-door or used in catering, schools and prisons.
“What we don’t see is protesting farmers or TV chefs questioning the amount that the other big buyers of milk, who include manufacturers and the public sector, are paying.
“A number of super-markets have dedicated milk supply chains which allow them to work closely with specific groups of farmers, guaranteeing how much they get for their milk and helping them invest in the long-term sustainability of their businesses.
“That matters to retailers who want successful relationships that will provide the milk they and their customers need, not just now, but over the coming decades.”