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Dairy Farming

Volume 599: debated on Thursday 10 September 2015

I understand that our farmers, particularly in the dairy sector, are facing serious issues with low prices and cash-flow problems. That is why I am pressing the European Union to relax controls so that we can pay farmers promptly as well as working to build the British dairy industry of the future.

Given that many consumers pay a premium on Fairtrade goods to support farmers across the world, would the Secretary of State support regional and national source labelling on milk, cheese and other farm products, and perhaps a fair trade scheme here to support our farmers?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about better labelling. I want better labelling in our supermarkets so that consumers know what they are buying. We are working with supermarkets on that at the moment. I am pleased to say that some supermarkets are now moving to cost-price contracts not only for milk but for products such as cheese, yogurt and butter.

Usually it is the dairy industry that is doing the milking, but not when it comes to selling its products to supermarkets and some wholesalers. A pound for four pints sounds wonderful for hard-pressed families, but dairy farmers should not be part of the welfare system. We have introduced a supermarket supremo who is supposed to ensure that dairy farmers are getting a fair price. Can we ensure that she gets into action as a matter of urgency before more dairy farmers go to the wall?

Earlier this year, we announced that she will have fining powers, which is giving her the teeth she needs. We have also announced a working group looking at contracts, through AHDB Dairy, which will talk about how we share risk better along the supply chain so that it is not just farmers who are facing the consequences of low prices in the global markets.

16 . Will the Minister support calls from the Scottish Government for retailers and food services to buy, and therefore support, local dairy produce? (901285)

We are working on that with the supermarkets, and I recently met my Scottish counterpart to discuss it. It is an important issue. It is also important that the public sector shows leadership so that we show where we source from and give transparency to new contracts that come up in order that local farmers can bid to supply these public sector contracts.

I very much welcome the improvements to food labelling that the Secretary of State has promoted so that consumers can have confidence that they are buying British, but clearly we need to encourage consumers to be equally discerning. What plans do the Government have to promote the importance of supporting our farmers by buying British?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a fantastic “GREAT” brand, which we use very successfully to promote British products overseas. I would like us to use that more in Britain, both in the public sector and in organisations such as supermarkets, so that consumers know when they are buying British products. Although most of the milk we buy is British, we import the majority of yoghurt, cheese and butter, and I think that is where the real opportunities are for our dairy farmers.

As the pricing crisis in not only milk but other sectors continues to get worse, will the Government make specific proposals to increase the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator so that she can look at the whole supply chain and our farmers can get a fair price for a quality product?

I agree that this is a serious situation. I have been pushing for a groceries code adjudicator across the European Union, because many of the dairy companies that operate in the UK do not just operate here. I want better transparency across the supply chain across the EU.