The UK Dairy Crisis: Why Milk Prices Matter

British dairy cows

Dairy farmers have been getting a lot of attention from the media this week. That’s because, for the first time ever, the price of milk per litre has fallen below the price of bottled water.

What’s the story?

As a direct result of a 4-pint carton of milk now costing less than a pound, more than 1,000 farmers will not be paid for their milk this Monday, after the UK’s largest dairy company announced it was delaying payments because of the price crash.

In the words of NFU president Meurig Raymond, “We have seen the product devalued – liquid milk in particular is now cheaper than water. There are very few dairy farmers making any money, most are haemorrhaging money at this present time, particularly those at 20p a litre.” As a result, many dairy farmers across Britain are facing the prospect of bankruptcy.

So who is to blame for this? The chief executive of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, Nick Errington,  blames the supermarkets for relentlessly pushing prices down with both processors and farmers. He explained, “In 1996 the retailers were making a margin of about 2.3p a litre, but today it stands at around 15p a litre – but it has been as high as 26p a litre,” he says. “The margin the retailers are making is just too high and they do not deserve it. The processor has to do all the pasteurisation, bottling and delivery to the supermarkets. All they do is put it on the shelves and collect the money. They have become far too powerful.”

I’m not naming names, but in light of all the above you can perhaps understand the anger I feel every time those annoying “love it cheaper” supermarket adverts come on the telly. Or the equally annoying, “It matters. That’s why we charge so little for it” ones. I can’t imagine how mugged off I’d be feeling if I was a dairy farmer facing bankruptcy.

Why should we care?

Regular readers will know that I’m usually harping on about animal welfare and environmentalism, not whether farmers have enough money for their retirement  plans. However, if farmers are constantly and relentlessly squeezed on price, the first thing to fall in all of this is ultimately going to be the welfare of cows.

If farmer Giles can’t pay the mortgage on his house this year, is he likely to be paying for all of the necessary upkeep on his animals? Is he going to be open to implementing higher cost, higher welfare practices – like converting to organic systems – or is he going to be trying to save money and cut costs – and corners – in every possible way?

If you like my Facebook page, you’ll often see me sharing news stories and campaign updates from Compassion in World Farming. They are an amazing charity whose main aim is to reduce the suffering of animals worldwide by bringing an end to cruel, intensive, factory farming practices; practices like raising vast numbers of miserable, stressed animals in windowless sheds.

If we let our supermarkets keep punishing our dairy farmers with unrealistically low prices for their milk, factory farming will be the inevitable result; no one wants to grow up to be a bankrupt farmer. There will be no alternative to the massive sheds and hideous suffering of the so-called mega dairy – this will be the only way that farmers can produce milk and sell it for such low prices.

What can we do about it?

If you feel passionately about stopping this from happening, please do some research in to which supermarkets are currently paying a fair price for their British milk (and dairy in general) – this article will help you and includes a list of retailers who just aren’t playing fair right now. Always, always buy British, and even better, pay the 40p or so extra and buy organic – the the farmers, and the cows, will thank you for it.


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