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Supermarkets must heed desperate Midlands' farmers protests over milk prices

July 24, 2012 11:48 PM

Consumers should follow farmers' warnings and boycott supermarkets who fail to pay a fair price for local milk, says Lib Dem Euro MP Phil Bennion.

The MEP, an arable farmer and agronomist from Staffordshire, said the escalating protests also highlight the need for the government to introduce an Ofcom-style supermarket regulator.

The call follows growing protests by farmers across the region, including a renewed blockade at the Müller Yogurt factory and Wiseman Dairy in Market Drayton in Shropshire and earlier action in Droitwich and large demonstrations in Shrewsbury, Telford and Newtown in Powys.

The temperature in the dispute rose today as Asda threatened legal action against Farmers For Action, the group behind many of the blockades. There are strong rumours on twitter and other sites of a large direct action protest against Asda starting tonight, July 24th.

Asda recently raised the price it pays for milk to 27.5p per litre but it is still well below that paid by Co-op and Morrisons, who also recently raised their prices after farmers' warnings that they faced bankruptcy.

Dr Bennion said: "I can understand the desperation and anger felt by dairy farmers who now have to sell milk for less than the price of bottled water. People have a right to peaceful protest.


"The crisis facing dairy farmers in this region is very deep. It has been accurately portrayed in The Archers on Radio 4, where David and Ruth Archer in a fictional Midlands county of Borsetshire are facing the possibility of selling their herd or going under after generations.

"The behaviour by some supermarkets screwing down the milk price paid to farmers to impossible levels is outrageous. This is yet more evidence of the need for an effective supermarket regulator, as advocated by the Liberal Democrats for years, especially the Cornish MP Andrew George.

"We now see some supermarkets waking up as people power hits them where it hurts. The combination of farmer protests and consumers switching to the supermarkets that pay a fair price shows what can be achieved by modern communications.

"Consumers - including my wife - are now using networks like Facebook to share boycott campaigns and the offending supermarkets better look out. Given how many people are now on Facebook this kind of campaigning is already significant and could be decisive.

"But we also need to see more pro-active regulatory action. The voluntary approach is not enough."

Dr Bennion added that dairy farmers in particular needed Cost of Production contracts which allow prices paid to vary.

"Supermarkets need continuity of supply and therefore long term contracts. However, dairy farmers' costs such as grain are highly volatile. It is no-one's interest for dairies and supermarkets to drive their suppliers into the ground when input costs are high."


Note: Currently in Brussels, Phil Bennion spoke to local farmers about the crisis yesterday and has recently discussed milk prices with LibDem Euro Agriculture spokesman George Lyon MEP and his deputy, German MEP Britta Reimers. Britta, a dairy farmer from Schleswig Holstein in northern Germany told Dr Bennion that the situation was little better in Germany with prices around 30 cents per litre. She was hopeful that the underlying world price would rise next year.

The recent price cuts to farmers follows a recent collapse in the world price of cream, which dairies had been relying on to make up their profits. British farmers already on the edge of bankruptcy erupted in protests after supermarkets refused to pay more for milk, causing dairies to try and cut the price they paid to farmers. Some supermarkets, notably Morrisons and Co-op, have now raised their wholesale prices paid for milk.

Dairy farming is a key part of the rural economy in Shropshire, Worcestershire and parts of Staffordshire and Herefordshire.