Figures released by DairyCo yesterday revealed that the number of dairy farmers in England & Wales has fallen again, down to 10,488, a loss of 200 producers over the last twelve months.

Last week permission was granted for a 1,000 cow dairy to be erected at Leighton, near Welshpool in Powys, despite concerns about the effect on the character and appearance of the area, slurry spreading and disposal of waste water, the impact on residents of odour, noise and the need for pest control, residents’ health, including children at the local primary school.

Two weeks ago supermarket giant Tesco revealed that it had generated almost 30,000 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of this year and, earlier this year, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers reported that up to 50% of all the food produced in the world never reaches anyone’s plate. Compassion in World Farming recently released figures to show that UK retailers waste the equivalent of 16 million chickens, 400,000 pigs and 50,000 beef cattle each year, in the UK.

Last month I attended a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference, organised by the National Farmers Union. A panel consisting of the Secretary of State for the Environment, the President and Vice President of the NFU and Justin King from Sainsbury’s, each set out their vision of the future for the UK dairy industry. The message they gave was consistently about producing more milk – grow to compete.

When I asked that panel what they were doing to instil real value in the milk produced from the dairy herds that have served our nation so well, Sainsbury’s Chief Justin King told me “Milk is a commoditised product. I don’t think you can aspire for milk, on the whole, to be anything other than a commoditised product”. I was astounded.

The drive to extract profit from our food en route from farm to fridge, combined with scare stories about future food security, are being used to drive our dairy farms towards greater intensification and threatening the nutritional value of our milk, the welfare of our cows and the fabric of our rural communities. It’s time farmers put their hands up, had a voice and took control of the agenda for food in the UK, to deliver what is right for all of us. Free Range Dairy is launching a new membership scheme for 2014 and will strive to deliver an alternative vision to the ‘Grow to Compete’ mentality that is driving farmers out of business. I hope you will join us.


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