Clearly British campaign: Battle begins for better dairy labels to help our farmers

A GROWING appetite for buying British dairy products to support farmers in crisis is being thwarted by confusing labelling rules where imports can be mistaken as British.

With dairy farming in the midst of its worst cash crisis for a generation, The Yorkshire Post is calling for clear labelling of all dairy products so that shoppers can know when they are backing British farmers at point of sale. Pic: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

And today, as dairy farms are embroiled in a struggle that threatens their very survival, The Yorkshire Post is demanding urgent action to put that right.

Nearly a decade ago we launched our Clearly British campaign to close a loophole in the law that allowed foreign meat to be branded British - a campaign that achieved success earlier this year when Brussels finally agreed to compulsory country labelling for a wide range of meats.

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Yet dairy products can still be labelled as produced in whichever country they were processed last rather than according to where the milk is actually from.

And there is added confusion by an oval-shaped label known as ‘the health mark’ which can say UK, but which only indicates where the product was processed or packaged, not where the raw ingredients come from.

Now we want to see clear, unambiguous labelling of all dairy products. Urgent action is needed as earlier this year the EU threw out proposals for stricter labelling of the dairy industry.

Today we are calling on retailers and food processors to clearly label where dairy products are from and help this industry in crisis.

We are also asking hotels, restaurants and caterers to commit to saying if the dairy products they are using are British.

We will also continue to pile pressure on Brussels and the UK Government to make sure permanent changes in Europe are not forgotten.

The choices for shoppers have never been more diverse - 60 per cent of yoghurts are imported, so too 40 per cent of cheese and 30 per cent of butter.

Retailers have made strides in improving labelling, but we want every product to be clearly and unambiguously marked, both online and in store.

We are calling for a UK logo or label or the Union flag to only to be used on dairy products made with milk that comes just from cows that are milked in Britain, and for greater take up of the Red Tractor logo which is the only guarantee that a dairy product is made using just British milk.

Red Tractor’s chief executive David Clarke said shoppers face uncertain decisions at the shops unless the Red Tractor mark is shown.

“Clear labelling has always been important and it is very important in the current state of the dairy farming economy,” he said.

Richmond’s Conservative MP Rishi Sunak, a member of the all-parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs government watchdog committee, fully endorsed The Yorkshire Post’s campaign, saying: “It’s absolutely crucial we get labelling right. People would like to know where their food comes from and we need to make it easier for them to do that.

“For too long it has been too difficult to see on the front of a product if it is British or where else it is from.”

Mr Sunak added: “This is too important not to deal with the technicalities, we need to get on with it and hopefully retailers and processors can take a lead on it. British dairy farmers need our support and this is the way to do it.”

Sian Davies, chief dairy adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “We would like improved labelling on dairy products across the piste, from online retail to your local café. We need to make is as easy as possible to choose British dairy products - the label should state where the milk was produced and not where the product was last processed.

“We know consumers want to support the British dairy industry and we need to make it as easy as possible for them to choose British. It’s not just at retail though - hotels, restaurants and cafés can ensure that they promote the provenance of dairy products on menus, etc and we need to encourage more dairy processors to clearly label origin on branded products.”

She said if consumers insist on British dairy products, retailers and others will have to stock more. She added: “Consumers can be confident that fresh milk on our shelves is British - the same cannot be said about cheese, butter, yoghurt and other dairy products.

“On behalf of our hard working dairy farmers I’d ask consumers to choose British when they can, and if it’s not clear where the product is from, ask the retailer to better label the product, including using the Red Tractor logo.”

Our campaign comes as key talks take place between farming leaders, the Government and other key players.

A voluntary labelling code drawn up by retailers, food processors and hospitality groups in 2010 was welcomed by farmers, but in the absence of stricter EU rules as the dairy crisis deepens and increasing dairy imports, those efforts no longer go far enough. The NFU is meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and others to discuss how the code can be extended later this month.

For more reporting on our Clearly British campaign, click here.

And sign our petition calling for clear dairy labelling here.