Overseas trade holds the key to dairy strength

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss is upbeat about dairy farming's future.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss is upbeat about dairy farming's future.
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The Environment Secretary is adamant a bright future lies ahead for the British dairy industry, provided it takes advantage of new overseas markets.

While admitting that establishing trade agreements to open up export opportunities was taking time, Miss Truss, who recently returned from the latest in a series of trade missions to China, said the Government was trying to ease the pressures facing dairy farmers right now.

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, the Leeds-raised Norfolk MP said: “I completely understand that many dairy farmers are struggling with prices and we are seeing global volatility in prices.

“It is an issue and that is why we have been working on helping farmers with cash flow in the short term, so for example working with HMRC on tax payments; making sure dairy farmers are paid on time through the Rural Payments Agency, and also speaking to the banks.

“Ministers in Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) have been speaking to the banks last week over what support should be given.

“What I don’t want to do is lose capacity in the dairy industry.”

There is little overseas trade in liquid milk, but considerable trade in processed products such as cheese and yoghurt. The Secretary of State said it was these products that Britain’s dairy industry had to capitalise on - both at home and abroad.

“We need to see more British cheese being sold in Britain, more British butter being sold in Britain, so we need the farmers to produce that. So that is what we are working on, what help can we make sure is available and helping manage cash flows, for example, so that we have the capacity to produce those high-quality products in the long term, because demand is growing and I think there is much more we can do in terms of exports.

“What I want to see is more Yorkshire products - Wensleydale Creamery has shown real leadership in this area. At the SIAL Food Festival in Paris its stand was mobbed by buyers from around the world. What I think is really great about Wensleydale is that it really showcases the landscape, and people want to buy into that, they love the heritage of Britain but also the really innovative high-quality products at the same time, so I think we can do more of that and I think we can expand those markets overseas.”

A recent report by the parliamentary EFRA committee called for clearer ‘Country of Origin’ labels on dairy products so that shoppers know that they are supporting British dairy farmers when they pick processed products such as cheese and yoghurts from supermarket shelves. Any change in labelling laws needs the sign off of the European Commission.

Miss Truss said: “We are pushing that at a European level. I have said that (we need clearer labelling) to Phil Hogan, the Agricultural Commissioner. We are working with DG Sanco in Europe, which is responsible for that area, and we are shortly due to have a report from Europe on dairy labelling.

“We have made real progress on labelling. From April we are going to have compulsory Country of Origin labelling on lamb, on pork and on chicken. I want to see that on dairy products as well. People need to know where the product is coming from. We will wait to see what the report is from Europe but I am clear we need that to happen, it’s very important.”