Dairy industry leaders are calling for tougher laws over country-of-origin labelling for cheese.

Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said too many supermarkets were sourcing cheese packaged in the UK but produced using milk from other countries.

For example, The Daily Telegraph reported Tesco has admitted most of its Everyday Value Cheddar is produced from cheese sourced in Ireland.

However, because the cheese is packaged in the UK, under current laws the supermarket is able to label it as “British”.

“If we don’t keep up the challenge, then countries like Ireland will have the upper hand in the market place.”
Nick Everington, RABDF chief executive

Tesco has defended its cheese sourcing policy, saying: “While the majority of our Everyday Value cheese is made using Irish milk, all of our Tesco brand is produced using 100% British milk.”

But Nick Everington, RABDF chief executive, said too much cheese was being imported into the UK, especially from countries like Ireland and Canada, which was then being labelled as British and misleading customers.

“I would like see mandatory labelling on cheese to clearly show the country where the milk was produced to make it,” said Mr Everington.

“If the cheese is packed in the UK but produced in another country it can still carry a UK mark, which is not representative of where it came from.

“We need to introduce tougher legislation that identifies where produce is made.”

The number of dairy farmers in the UK has fallen from 34,750 in 1996 to 14,500 today.

And the dairy industry’s increasing reliance on cheese imports was driving UK dairy farmers out of business, Mr Everington said.

“Half the milk produced in this country goes into the liquid market, but the rest goes into manufacturing, of which a high percentage goes into cheese,” he explained.

“Therefore, it’s important that we pay farmers a fair price for their milk as a lot of the milk they produce is being used in the cheese market.”

Mr Everington said the UK needed to increase its cheese production, not only for domestic consumption but also to export.

“If we don’t keep up the challenge, then countries like Ireland will have the upper hand in the market place.”

Figures from DairyCo show imports of cheddar in May 2012 to the UK were higher than a year earlier, by 2,267t (34%).

According to DairyCo, UK cheese exports stood at 10,430t in May 2012, 1,227t (13.3%) more than May 2011.