David Handley speaking at a protestDavid Handley © Tim Scrivener

Dairy farmers are planning to blockade the distribution centre of a retail outlet which they claim is importing milk at the expense of UK producers.

David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action, said the organisation has been monitoring a number of retailers and discounters over recent weeks and was convinced that large quantities of imported milk was coming into the country.

Mr Handley said the milk was “going under the radar” because it was coming in on curtain-sided lorries, rather than in refrigerated tankers, because it was heat-treated first.

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The milk, the bulk of which was from Belgium, was then being used to make products such as milkshakes which were aimed at children, he suggested.

“We think the time is right for us to highlight this,” he told Farmers Weekly. “I think we are talking millions of litres a year coming in. But because they process the milk first, they are getting away with it.”

Mr Handley said he would have less of a problem with companies importing UHT milk if it was not available in the UK.

However, there were two processors in the country – Crediton Dairy in Devon and Arla at its Settle creamery – which could supply UHT products made from British milk.

“Our question for retailers is why they are sourcing milk from Belgium when we have two plants in the UK that have the capacity to supply this milk. Why are we feeding kids Belgian milk in milkshakes when it could be British?”

Farmers from the North West and the Midlands are being invited to join the protest, which will take place on Tuesday evening (19 April).  

A spokesman from AHDB Dairy said HMRC figures showed 130m litres of UHT milk had been imported into the UK during 2015. This compared with 138m litres in 2014 and 137m litres in 2013.

The bulk of last year’s imports – 50m litres – came from Belgium, with 31m litres from the Netherlands, 17m litres from Germany and 11m litres from Denmark.

Data from consumer monitoring company Kantar showed consumption of UHT was currently at 240m litres a year.